During today’s press conference, Monsignor Spiegel announced that “next week, there will take place different meetings in Brazil” with the intention of discussing the implications of Querida Amazonia. Upon a question by a journalist concerning the possibility of ordaining viri probati – the priestly ordination of morally proven married men – Spiegel came back to these meetings with more information and said that “according to our knowledge [and he looked to his colleagues at the panel], the bishops will make formal requests in Rome,” since the Pope himself “encouraged” them to make “concrete proposals.” That is to say, these bishops intend to ask Pope Francis to give them permission to ordain married priests.
Spiegel also stated that “celibacy is a disciplinary form” that also “can be changed.”
Why do the German bishops know anything about what’s going on in the Amazon? Because, according to Hickson, “the German bishops are heavily funding the churches there.”
So let’s back up a second and review the story thus far.
While many commentators were gushing and throwing parties about how the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia didn’t throw out 2,000 years of Catholic theology on the priesthood, Tim Gordon and I were throwing flags on the field:
Even before our podcast on the topic, and Tim’s powerhouse followup piece, I cautioned:
Everything we were concerned about in the final synod document is still there; it’s just been cleverly concealed. This is because the exhortation is, itself, a presentation of a Magisterialized™ version of that final document. (I’ll explain in a minute.)
In moments such as these, we have to remember the Perón Rule. Remember the shell game. With this particular pontificate, we must not be so distracted by what is in front of us that we forget to watch the other hand. And the other hand, in this case, is concealing everything we were worried that it would.
The link in the above quote to “the shell game” goes to my article, back in 2018, about how the pope masterfully tricked everyone into thinking he really opposed the German bishops on intercommunion.
This is an important model that they like to follow, so it’s important to understand the steps. It always goes something like this (just insert your pet issue in place of intercommunion):
Step 1 – The Formal Push: German bishops create intercommunion handout with guidelines for allowing Protestants to receive the sacrament in German churches.
Step 2 – The Papal Head Fake: With papal approval, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith smacks down the handout and swats the German bishops with a rolled up newspaper (probably La Repubblica, since they have an abundance of Scalfari’s rag lying about.)
Step 3 – Setting the Hook: Gullible Catholics immediately rejoice. “We knew it! We have such an orthodox pope!” they exclaim, clicking their ruby slippers together and chanting, “There’s no place like Rome! There’s no place like Rome!”
Step 4 – The “Lucy”: Pope grabs the football right as
Charlie Brown the credulous folks arrive at full speed to kick it, whiffing hard, while Francis tells the German bishops to just do it on a diocese by diocese basis, because canon law says it’s “up to the local bishop to decide under what conditions communion can be administered to non-Catholics, not local bishops’ conferences.”
“Something worked out in an episcopal conference,” he continues, standing atop the supine bodies of his enemies for greater emphasis, “quickly becomes universal.”
Step 5 – Profit: The satisfied Germans pay more Vatican bills. After all, Rome needs Rhine money to keep flowing into the Tiber.
Msgr. Spiegel also pointed out the connection between relaxing priestly celibacy and the push for women to take on new roles in the Church:
Spiegel stated that the viri probati debate is really subordinate to the more important role of women. It is about “institutionalizing other offices and ministries” which should not be “a copy of a clerical priesthood.” It is a completely new approach. Thus, it is about a laicization of the Church and of an enhancement of women’s leadership in the local Church. This question, the clergyman explained, “is far more decisive than the question of the viri probati.”
“When this [larger, more comprehensive] question is being dealt with, the question of the viri probati will automatically be a consequence of it,” he concluded.
Víctor Manuel Fernández, a papal ghostwriter and Argentine Archbishop of La Plata, has stressed at the end of February that Querida Amazonia actually opens up a completely new field of influence for women by reducing the priesthood’s duties to the exercise of two Sacraments – the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance – and by reducing their own power, while there will be “authority” given to lay people – male and female. That is to say, the transformation proposed by Pope Francis is that women may lead parishes, administer certain sacraments and are thus the dominant presence in a parish, while a priest might travel from parish to parish and administer “his” two Sacraments (with an additional Sacrament of Extreme Unction which includes Confession).
“But nothing has happened yet,” I hear you protest.
And that’s true. As Kenny Rogers famously said, you never count your money when you’re sitting at the table…there’ll be plenty of time for counting when the gambling’s done. After all, a meteor COULD hit the Vatican. Coronavirus could suddenly change the game. A zombie apocalypse might also break out. Or, even less likely, Francis might suddenly have an incredible Damascus moment and transmogrify into Pius XIII.
But since we don’t know, we should all be keeping our game faces on. Things are progressing according to plan. Watch that ball, because it’s quickly being moved beneath the shuffling cups, and you don’t want to look like a rube at the end of the game.