Die Presse: You have suffered an attack on your life and have been under police protection fo the past eight years. How do you deal with the fear of death?
Bishop Erwin Kräutler: If I am only afraid, I can’t live. The people are my greatest protection.
Die Presse: Coming from Brazil to Austria must be a culture shock for you.
Bishop Kräutler: No. I have my roots here. History has been different here in Austria. The bishops here must confront the situation of today and try to find ways to find the people where they are. I have my gained my experience in Brazil, but I don’t judge anyone’s conscience.
Die Presse: Which of your experiences can be applied to Europe, to Austria?
Bishop Kräutler: The keyword is laity. In Brazil women and men are much more needed: In my diocese there are 800 communities and 27 priests, which says everything. When te laity do not take responsibility for their communities, there won’t be any communities anymore. Ten years from now, it will also be the case in Europe, that women and men lead communities.
Die Presse: Administring the sacrament is still left to priests?
Bishop Kräutler: Not exclusively. I can give everyone the permission to perform Baptisms or officiate at weddings. 90 percent of all communities in Amazonia do not have the Eucharist on Sundays. 70 percent have one two or three times per year, and otherwise a liturgy of the Word is celebrated.
Die Presse: The Second Vatican Council calls the Eucharist the source and summit of Christian life. Te practice you describe remains far behind, compared to this statement.
Bishop Kräutler: Absolutely. God is also present in His Word, but the liturgy of the Word is only a part of the celebration of the Eucharist. In most communities the second part is sadly absent, and that is the major problem.
Die Presse: Catholics also have a right to the Eucharist. How does one solve that problem?
Bishop Kräutler: Yes, they have a right to it. It is not a privilege.
Die Presse: Should the rules for receiving the Eucharist be changed?
Bishop Kräutler: Exactly, that is what I told the Pope. The Pope is very open. He won’t have a solution overnight. But the Pope told me literally: The bishops, the local bishops’ conferences should make bold, courageous proposals.
Die Presse: How can the rules for access to the priesthood be relaxed?
Bishop Kräutler: By whatever options there are. Celibacy should not necessarily be mandatory for the celebration of the Eucharist. Celibacy means that a man without a wife commits himself to live without ever marrying. When I think about my own experience: Would I have been able to do it while having a wife and children? When then not be my first duty to be there for my wife and children and not risk my life? A proposal can be that celibacy and the Eucharist be disconnected. I don’t agree with the Eucharist being made dependent on a celibate priest.
Die Presse: But you must go along with it?
Bishop Kräutler: That has changed, insofar that we can make proposals to the Pope. My visit to the Pope was exceptional, as I had a private audience with him [in early April of this year]. I have notified the bishops’ conference [of Brazil]. There will most likely be a commission which takes the ball and runs with it: how can we help the Pope. He asks us for proposals, he wants them.
Die Presse: Do you expect Pope Francis to implement such reforms?
Bishop Kräutler: I hope so. This process has never been allowed. Benedict XVI said, “We pray for vocations to the priesthood.” It is different with this Pope. He wants to get a process started. That is what’s new. There are doors opening.
Die Presse: Concerning the ordination woman, Francis has said that that door is closed.
Bishop Kräutler: As long as there is a door… That door has not turned into a wall. I don’t think that women’s ordination will be allowed under this Pope.
Die Presse: Should that door be opened?
Bishop Kräutler: Yes, but I won’t hold my breath.
Die Presse: Have you ever refused anyone Communion?
Bishop Kräutler: Never. That would be scandalous. Who am I to refuse anyone Communion? Those concerned should decide it according to their conscience.
Die Presse: Francis is highly critical of the economy. How much criticism on capitalism is acceptable for the Catholic Church?
Bishop Kräutler: The Pope speaks here as a Latin American. The questions is who the subject is: the economy or the people, for which it should work? Things in this matter have become blurred.
Die Presse: Many notice a shift to the left in the Church…
Bishop Kräutler: It is madness to stigmatise Liberation Theology as Marxism. Liberation Theology is Biblical.