Paul Zulehner, the Austrian priest who last October helped organize the Pro Pope Francis initiative, has just given, on 6 January 2018, an interview to the Austrian newspaper Kurier which is being widely discussed in German-speaking media. Being a prominent representative of the German-speaking progressivists in the Catholic Church, Zulehner predicts that there will be approved, in 2019, the ordination of married priests. He also indicates the possibility of female priests.
When asked about whether there will soon be female priests in the Catholic Church, Zulehner answers with the following words:
Before there will be female priests, there will take place an opening up of the Catholic-ecclesiastical office [sic – the priesthood] to the married. I guess that the Latin American bishops will decide this at the Synod for the Pan-Amazon region in 2019. The pope probably will back them up. This will then put others under pressure to follow the example of the Latin Americans. This way, the Church will change.
Speaking about this method of operation which is based on a more decentralized way of governing the Church, Zulehner adds “It is one of the most important decisions of this pontificate that the pope overcomes centralism.” Things have changed now in such a way, says the professor of pastoral theology, that “that which Rome now says might well come from the peripheries.” He continues, saying:
Rome now goes into the school of regions, of the continents, of the bishops’ conferences, and then says: Okay, we accept that for the Universal Church, or, for now, we support it for the region.
For the Austrian priest, this development is revolutionary: “That is a revolution.” He explains, as follows:
Now the bishops’ conferences are being asked to decide about things which are important for us and then to inform the Vatican and then the pope can say: Do it exactly that way!
For Zulehner, this reform is about “the Church arriving in modernity.” Quoting “Pope Francis’ mentor, Cardinal [Carlo] Martini,” the Austrian professor says: that “the Catholic Church is 300 years behind the modern world.” Concretely, this new approach is described by Zulehner with the words: “One does not any more speak about the sins of men, but about their wounds; one does not moralize, one heals.” In this priest’s eyes, “Pope Francis is not an ideologue, but a shepherd who cares for the individual person in his individual situation.”
In this context, Paul Zulehner sees the next conclave to be decisive: “Will we continue the path of Pope Francis?”
Paul Zulehner himself co-authored books with Bishop emeritus Fritz Lobinger (South Africa) who is a promoter of married priests, as well as of the idea of ordaining women to the priesthood. As we reported in November of 2017, Zulehner then gave a talk at the fall assembly of the Bavarian Regional Committee of Catholics where he already showed himself convinced that Pope Francis will admit new forms of the priesthood.
As the newspaper Kurier reports at the end of this new 6 January interview, Zulehner’s initiative Pro Pope Francis has gained 70,000 supporters, and Zulehner himself is currently engaged in organizing a global network of 175 top theologians in order to “give theological foundations for the path of the pope.” “The goal is to follow up on — and secure — the Second Vatican Council so that the Church’s path into modernity will not be left again.”