The National Catholic Reporter is carrying a story that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a member of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Germany’s current defense minister, called on the Catholic Church to abolish priestly celibacy and ordain women to the diaconate. Her Wikipedia page says that she is a Roman Catholic. She is an important politician in Germany and had been Angela Merkel’s chosen heir and had she not ruled herself out of the running earlier this week, could well have become Germany’s next chancellor. So whatever one might think, she is undeniably an important figure in German politics.
Here I am not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of her proposals. What I find fascinating is that a government minister (for defense no less) would comment in the pubic square on a matter that is surely for the Church to decide. It is true that she is entitled to her personal opinion, but rightly or wrongly a politician of her stature cannot express a public opinion that won’t be understood as coming from her political role (it may even be the case that she stressed that she was simply expressing her personal views (the NCR report doesn’t say). It ought also to be considered that these issues are in the media spotlight in Germany this week due to the Synodal Process there.
The Catholic Church has often been accused of meddling in politics. Maybe there is some case to be answered by certain members of the Church in this regard. However, conversely, is it the place of politicians to recommend major changes to the Catholic Church? Should, for example, Mark Esper, the current U.S. Secretary for Defense, feel free to suggest similar changes to the U.S. Catholic Church?
I know the natural tendency for everyone is to agree that it is a good idea, if we agree with what is being called for, and to be horrified by it if we are not. But that is not the question I am asking. More simply, what role should secular leaders have in deciding Catholic doctrine and practice? Historically, we can look back at figures such as the Emperor Constantine who influenced Church teaching. But today how should we process these calls, should inputs such as this be given a certain importance or should the Church state that she deals with internal matters internally?