Liberation theologian says married ex-priests may return to ministry in Brazil04 January 2017 | by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
Thousands of priests in Brazil have left the priesthood to marry
According to the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, Pope Francis may soon respond to the Brazilian bishops’ special request that – on account of the drastic shortage of priests – thousands of priests in Brazil who have left the priesthood to marry should be allowed to return to ministry.
“The Brazilian bishops, especially the Pope’s close friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, have expressly asked Pope Francis to allow married priests in Brazil to return to their pastoral ministry. I have recently heard that the Pope wants to grant them this request – by way of an experimental preliminary phase confined for the moment to Brazil. This country, with its 140 million Catholics, should have at least 100,000 priests but it only has 18,000, which is a catastrophe,” Boff told the Cologne daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger on Christmas Day.
“Small wonder that the faithful are leaving the Church in droves and joining the evangelical Churches or the Pentecostals. If the now thousands of married priests here in Brazil were once again allowed to practise their pastoral ministry, that would be a first step towards improving the situation – and at the same time an impulse for the Church to free itself of the fetters of celibacy.”
Boff was asked whether, if the Pope did agree to the Brazilian bishops’ request, as a former Franciscan priest, he would reassume his priestly ministry. “I personally do not need such a decision. It would not change anything in my case as I have gone on doing what I have always done. I baptise, bury and, when I come to a community that has no priest, I celebrate Mass with the faithful. As far as I know, no bishop has ever objected, let alone forbidden me to do this up to now. On the contrary, bishops often tell me to keep it up as people have a right to the Eucharist,” Boff replied.
His theological mentor, the late Cardinal Evaristo Arns, who had died a few days previously, had always been very open on this issue, he recalled. “Arns went so far as to ask any married priests that he spotted in the congregation to come up and join him at the altar and concelebrate with him. ‘They are still priests – and they will remain priests,’ Arns always insisted,” Boff said.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was very close to the Pope, said we could expect some big surprises soon, he recalled and added, “So who knows, maybe we can expect women deacons.”
Boff admitted that the Pope was encountering fierce opposition from within his own ranks, “particularly from US cardinals”.
“The way [Cardinal Raymond] Burke has behaved is extraordinary but not entirely unprecedented in church history. One can criticise the Pope and argue with him. I have done so myself often enough. But for cardinals publicly to accuse the Pope of spreading erroneous theology, let alone heresy, is too much. That is an affront the Pope cannot tolerate,” Boff claimed.
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