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A German theologian[1] analyzes the astounding book Have Courage, Change the World and the Church Now! authored by one of the main organizers of the Synod for the Pan-Amazon Region: the Austrian bishop Erwin Kräutler.

[1] Father Johannes Stöhr was born in Berlin and was ordained a priest in 1958. He was a professor of Dogmatic Theology in the Theological-Philosophical School of Bamberg and a visiting professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome and at the University of Navarra in Pamplona. Author of numerous books and treatises, he currently resides in Cologne.


Erwin Kräutler

Habt Mut! Jetzt die Welt und die Kirche verändern

(Have Courage! Change the World and the Church Now)

Tyrolia-Verlag, Innsbruck 2016

142 p., ISBN 978-3-7022-3508-6, EUR 14,95


The author of this book followed his uncle as a missionary priest from 1981 to 2015 as prelate and bishop of Xingu, a territorial prelature in the Amazon. [translator’s note: Msgr. Erich Kräutler (1908-1985) exercised his ministry for decades in the Amazon, was bishop prelate of Xingu from 1971 to 1981, and was replaced by his nephew, Msgr. Erwin Kräutler, who held the same ministry from 1981 to 2015].

The prelate, born in Austria, was one of the best-known exponents of liberation theology in Latin America and fought fiercely for the rights of indigenous peoples, for the protection of the rainforest, and against the Belo Monte dam project on the Xingu River. Such protests – derived from his “option for the poor and the culturally different” – and numerous trips to Europe characterized his activities. Now he wishes to continue serving those goals even as bishop emeritus (p.142). He published this book soon after his retirement in 2015. He is currently preparing the 2019 Amazonian Synod with Cardinal Hummes.

From the outset, one’s attention is drawn to the fact that the book brings no proof at all with references to the specialized literature and an indication of more precise sources. The text itself contains only a few references to Council texts and to various statements by the current Pope. And at times, quotations are made without providing the proper source (p.18, 24, 69, 74, etc.).

At the end of each of its seven chapters, the book mentions common rules of life with biblical citations: love your neighbor, respect creation, do not despise the poor, seek peace, have the courage to change, take on your global responsibility. These imperatives are formulated vaguely and in a rather populist and philanthropic tone and ultimately without any convincing theological basis.

However, the book unusually reproduces many impressions and personal experiences, including reports on conferences and lectures. The subjective “I” appears on almost every page, as the author also reports extensively on his personal agenda (p. 94ff) This is rather strange if one considers the book’s title, which makes a general call with supposedly valid requirements. Incredibly enough, numerous historical and sociological generalizations are made without any mention of their sources.

New Hopes?

What are this bishop’s hopes for change founded on? Are these hopes specifically Christian? He says that starting from Christianity one can achieve the same result obtainable from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[1]

In fact, however, Christian and supernatural hope is very different from natural hope, because it is the confident expectation of all the goods that Christ has promised us for the fulfillment of the Divine will. Therefore, the proper objects of Christian hope and courageous confidence are only the promises of Christ proclaimed in the Faith, rather than secular political-social objectives or privately desired intra-ecclesial structural changes .

Here the doctrine of Pope John Paul II is very clear: “It is the task of every bishop, from the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to announce hope to the world: hope, not only and above all the eschatological hope for the riches of the glory of God (Ephesians 1:18), which goes beyond anything that has come to the mind of man (1 Corinthians 2: 9), and with which the sufferings of the present day “(Rom 8:18). Hope as the theological virtue means far more than human expectations, which may well be different in the context of a legitimate pluralism.

However, for the author the reasons for the change required are, above all, political-social and ecclesiastical considerations. In a very polemical and simplistic way, he expressed himself for decades against the government’s indigenist policy – “The Indians Have Their Identity Denied” (page 46) – and the Belo Monte power plant (pp. 47-49). And he describes in detail the unsatisfactory legal situation of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon (pp. 45-51).

Even his non-theological sociopolitical expectations and demands hardly seem to do justice to those complicated problems. After all, large-scale technical and commercial projects are often very complex undertakings (dams, highway construction), where it is often not easy to weigh the pros and cons, so non-specialists should be somewhat cautious. Corrupt corporate and corrupt politicians are not the single cause of all difficulties.

He usually calls Liberation Theology, theologically corrected or obsolete long ago, “biblical”, “it was not invented.”[2] Supposedly, Rome always treated Liberation Theology and Latin American Base Christian communities unjustly (p.130). “Rome has unfairly looked upon the Base Communities in Latin America … with suspicion” (Ibid.) Now, with the current Pope, Liberation Theology and ecology with their basic concerns have “reached the center of the Church” (p.44).

Bishop Erwin’s expectations are not based on theological reflections or important studies, but on the personality of Pope Francis, whose occasional statements he wishes to interpret according to his old ideological principles. His book is meant to encourage the Pope to make changes. From it he expects a greater overcoming of centralism (p.100, 110), “openness”, a more dialoguing leadership style, new reforms of the Curia (cites in detail well-known criticisms by the Pope: p. 102 & ff), calls for a new world economic order, a Church that “comes from the people of God and which, building from there … knows a structure and a munus” (p.126). He praises the Pope, among other things, for his position on the arms trade, on death penalty (p. 70 f.), climate change and ecology (p. 43 f.), the simplification of marriage annulment procedures (pp. 19-22), abandoning the miter and the use of automobiles (p.83 ff.). Lastly, the fact that in the apostolic letter Evangelii gaudium the Pope opts for more autonomy for bishops’ conferences, and that Europeans for the first time were a minority in the last Conclave is a source of hope (page 132 ff).

The high point of his life was the encyclical Laudato si, “an incomparable political victory” for the Amazon (page 52). He recommends “pastoral letters coming from below” (p. 84), a general vote on pastoral priorities in a diocese (p.85), and online surveys around the world (p. 100).

The Amazon Austrian’s starting point is the European thinking of the generation of the ’68s and’ 70s – a generation that still today, in old age, still wants to implement its demands. These include mainly lifting the obligation to celibacy and admitting married priests, giving the laity new tasks of leadership and also making women priests – at least regionally and in a gradual way at the beginning.

To him, the solemn declarations of Rome on the impossibility of the ordination of women (Instruction Inter insigniores, 1976, Apostolic Exhortation Ordinatio sacerdotalis, 1994) are unsuitable. He sees them only as firm statements by a Pope which do not imply definition and still require dialogue. Progress at the regional level, following the example of the Amazon, would have to be preceded by changes in the Church.

He thus expresses himself on the preparatory talks for the Amazon Synod convened for October 2019: “It remains clear that the Amazon will become a test for the Brazilian Church, for the nation and for the world. This is about the conservation of the tropical forest and also about new forms of evangelization of indigenous peoples” (p.110).

"It remains clear that the Amazon will become a test for the Brazilian Church, for the nation and for the world. It deals with the conservation of the tropical forest and also of the new forms of evangelization of the indigenous peoples "

Old quarrels and criticisms

The author became known in the last millennium mainly for some comments on the occasion of the Jubilee of the discovery of America. Decades ago, most demagogues and local publicists considered it a duty to put the evangelization of Latin America, 500 years ago, in a critical light. Good things were mentioned only in passing and often to accentuate negative aspects. Kräutler made his statements for this end:[3] the arrival of Europeans in Latin America was mainly a genocidal excrescence of “despotism and greed for power” through “shameful acts and atrocities of war”. When the flag with the Crucified was hoisted on October 12, 1492, a secular Good Friday dawned for Latin America. The decline of the population in some countries is explained by the “mass slaughter” allegedly perpetrated by the settlers; only in passing they mention diseases brought from outside. And “the Church” justified this behavior for religious reasons.

With some exceptions, missionary work was not evangelization.[4] Rome did not follow the path of the Gospel and of the prophet, but that of diplomacy.[5] He even speaks of “Church complicity and guilt.” The (dogmatized) sentence extra Ecclesiam nulla salus was supposedly a particular reason for the lack of dialogue and tolerance. The vicarious position of the Pope and the king served as justification for domination. Indigenous religions were unjustly rejected as idolatrous and demonic. Even the Catechism was at the service of a kind of psychological terror. “The descendants of these people who bled to death in countless crosses are today treated worse than the Hebrews in the ancient Egypt of the pharaohs and in the Babylonian exile or Christians in the Rome of Diocletian and Nero.”[6] One should apologize for the complicity of the Church in genocide. The multiple injustices, the hunger of many peoples, the experience of violence and death, high child mortality rates, statelessness and extortion, racism, sexism and abusive exploitation of the land are supposedly the awful underlying reality.

The author seems to blame the Roman Catholic Church in general for always allying with the powerful and being unwilling to abandon a comfortable and risk-free life. Without hesitation, he takes for granted the so-called “black legend” of Masonic inspiration and does not shrink from making extremely polemical accusations against the ancient Spaniards and the “Church.”[7]  His criticisms had long since been refuted. For example, the sharp decline of the population in Latin America is largely explained by epidemics, infections and tribal wars, and could hardly be due to military conflicts and violence by relatively few conquistadors.

On the occasion of the fifth centennial of the discovery of America, a renowned expert, the President of the German-Brazilian Society, Professor Hermann M. Görgen had already vigorously challenged his position and tried to give an objective answer to his mixture of lies and half-truths, historical distortions and cheap accusations. It is strange that the old theses have come up again.[8]

It is well known among us that nowadays nothing is easier, more mediatically effective and harmless than spreading defamatory slanders against the Church. The magazine Orientierung has been known for decades for polemizing against all of Rome’s efforts, especially in the field of marriage and family morality. At the time, the magazine published an unworthy adulation: no one was as competent as Kräutler to speak and write about Latin America. But in his writings, for example in that journal, he made no attempt to produce any relevant scientific proof or ground.

However, even if one ignores their populist character, the main theological error of the accusations is to blame the Church for sinful actions of Christians acting against the spirit of the Church and with non-ecclesiastical and anti-Christian attitudes. This false conception of the Church must be resolutely rejected on the basis of Coucil’s theology (cf. Cardinal Charles Journet).

To understand the good done by the Church and the missionaries it would be enough to mention, among many examples, the Jesuit reductions (1698-1767, especially in Paraguay), which were exemplary in many aspects such as in the cultural sphere, the full integration of the Indians in Christian community life, guaranteeing the material well-being of the Indians, and so on.

Honorary Doctorates

The book refers to the title of honorary doctor. But the recent history of honorary doctorates awarded by public theological faculties has many sad chapters because of questionable ideological and financial underpinnings.[9]  Ordinarily, the granting of an honorary doctorate in theology does not mean a reward for a possibly exceptional social-political commitment, but recognition for theological works of a scientific nature. In vain does one seek signs of such qualification in the author; only two rather virulent and controversial articles can be found in the journal Orientierung[10] and in the Anzeiger für die Seelsorge.[11]

None of those responsible for an honorary doctorate in Bamberg at that time had knowledge about or relevant ties with Latin America; no one knew the Portuguese or Spanish language; no one had any knowledge, specific historical studies, or pastoral experience in Latin America; no one has ever been to Brazil; only one of those responsible was in Latin America once – in the context of Caribbean tourism. The only decisive reasons were ideological, as Kräutler was considered an exponent of liberation theology and they wanted to link his episcopal name to a campaign going on in the media.

According to a communique by the secretariat of Archbishop Georg Eder’s in 1992,[12] during the Salzburg Universities Seminar, the archbishop, then permanent chairman of its Council, only learned by chance that Kräutler had been invited to deliver a solemn lecture at the congress. So the archbishop was led by formal and also substantial reasons to reject that “leftist”, which he did documented with quotations: “Unfortunately…Bishop Kräutler failed in many of his lectures to present a truly objective and fair evaluation of the mission in Latin America (especially on the occasion of the Jubilee for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America).”

Statement by the then Archbishop of Salzburg (1992) Georg Eder: “Unfortunately... Bishop Kräutler has failed in many of his lectures to present a truly objective and fair assessment of the mission in Latin America (especially on the occasion of the Jubilee for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America).”

Concept of Mission?

Today, as we know, missionary dynamism–which properly belongs to the Church through the mandate of her Founder (Mt 28:18-20)—is  often denigrated as “proselytizing.” It is strange that even a missionary participates in this slander and makes generalized accusations: “All forms of proselytism are dangerous” (64). “Christianity was imposed by sword and fire as the only true religion in Latin America as a consequence of the wars waged by European conquerors” (p.65).

Conversely, the Congregation for the Clergy stated about the missionary aspect of the priesthood: “All these opinions are therefore inadmissible which, in the name of a misunderstood respect for certain cultures, tend to distort the missionary activity of the Church, which is called to the universal fulfillment of this mystery of salvation that must transcend and invigorate all cultures.”[13]

The Amazon as pilot project: New community leaderships and women's ordination

The author notes that the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon and the Dialogue Forum of the Bishops’ Conference are now discussing “the new forms of Christian communities and their government – including the Sunday Eucharist. To this end, concrete proposals for the Pope are being prepared. I do not know what they will be like. It is certain that he comes from his formation in Argentina. However, I do not think he would strictly deny, with a quod non, the ordination of women. I do not think he thinks with this logic of the black or white. Of course he would not go out saying that everything the popes stated before him is outdated. But he knows very well that a number of issues in the Church often mature over centuries, and ultimately demand a decision that no one could have imagined a few decades earlier.”

Bishop Kräutler  goes on to mention – without any further justification – doctrines of the Magisterium apparently in complete opposition to democracy, religious freedom, biblical exegesis. “Certain beliefs and interpretations, once vigorously sustained and even defended as immutable, have often changed completely throughout history.”

“I am convinced that Francis finds himself in this tradition, open to dialogue and change. However, the issue of women ordination is particularly difficult. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Ordinatio sacerdotalis of May 22, 1994, wrote: ‘I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.’ Although this is not a dogma of faith, ‘de fide definita’, it is a very explicit statement by a Pope. Therefore, Pope Francis will do nothing alone in the matter of priesthood, celibacy and the ordination of women, except in conjunction with the bishops. In this context, he certainly will not make any decisions that should be implemented immediately around the world.

“For something to happen, a significant number of Bishops’ Conferences in Latin America, Asia, and Africa would have to want to bring about change. For example, there should be a broad consensus at the continental level or even in the universal Church. Only then would this have enough weight to modify a previous Pope’s statement. And, of course, Francis will not do it alone” (p 111s).

He continues: “But this is beyond the reality of most communities in the Amazon, virtually excluded from the Eucharist. Yes, it is a blatant injustice to deprive these communities of the Eucharist.” “My idea is that we first need to obtain regional solutions. … Therefore, I would think that the Conference of Bishops of Brazil should first look at the Amazon and propose an ‘ad experimentum‘ solution for this region. … I cannot make the question  whether a community can celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday or not depend on whether a celibate man is available or not” (p. 115ff).

“There are many women who prepare and run the Sunday liturgy, there are young men and old men who voluntarily engage in the community. With due preparation, such people could also be formed to preside over the Eucharist. … not as second-class priests but rather as women and men ordained for their community in order to preside over the mysterium fidei (the mystery of the faith), the Eucharistic celebration. Ideally, there should be up to two or three per community. … However, I cannot reconcile with my faith for someone to simply decide to preside over the celebration of the Eucharist or, conversely, that a community should assign someone, of its own, to preside the Eucharistic celebration. This is a rupture with our Church, which since the time of the Apostles has always known the mandate, the ordination, the laying on of hands, linked to the prayer of ordination and the invocation of the Holy Spirit” (117).

In a video interview on November 30,  2017[14]  Kräutler maintains: “We must make courageous suggestions. For example, we may think that people, men and women, leaders of a community, are assigned – and ordained – to preside over the Sunday Eucharist.” Oddly, he had already cast the Eucharist against the authority of the Church founded by Christ.[15]

In his book he goes back to the theme: “These are new forms of Christian communities and their leadership – including the Sunday Eucharist.” “A proven ecclesial possibility would be to allow ‘ad experimentum’ in the Amazon married men and women as community leaders who also preside over the Eucharist. But for me the much-discussed ‘viri probati’ (‘men with experience’) alone are not a solution, as that would mean that only married men could take on this full ministry of the community. Because today, two-thirds of the communities in the Xingu are run by women” (110).

A commentator on the Synod’s preparations observes (June 16, 2018): “In the discussion there is almost no theological dimension emphasizing that celibacy is not only a law of the Church, and therefore changeable, but an essential characteristic of the priesthood according to the model of celibacy of Jesus Christ and to the celibate life of the apostolic tradition.”


The book addresses a variety of topics ranging from social science to exegesis, politics, Church history and structure all the way to canon law. Which of these fields does it treat, at least roughly, in an objective and theological way? Does it present any proposals different from those of the 1970s? The book calls into question more or less directly facts and theological truths clarified long ago, proposing them again as topics for discussion.

Its numerous historical distortions, simplifications and demagogic generalizations appear to be only a repetition of old, historically and sociologically unsustainable claims made at the time of the campaign against the Church on the occasion of the Jubilee of the discovery of America. Strangely, precisely those who ceaselessly clamor for structural changes now, bitterly criticize and reject wholesale the changes done 500 years ago.

In fact, back then as today, in vain were anti-capitalist demonstrators vociferously protesting the invasion of North American sects, the mafia, the spread of drugs, and the increase in contraception promoted by large pharmaceutical companies.

Moreover, today the bishops seem to work so much that the faithful rarely see them. Indeed, there is the growing problem of “traveling uncles”: bishops, pastors and officials who rarely find themselves in their diocese or parish but attend every imaginable symposium abroad. One might ask: How can one justify their long months travelling around Europe to participate in conferences?

In an interview in Vienna, the author (Erwin Kräutler) recently stated: “I have always been a sensible person.” However, one does not see that he has freed himself from any of his emotional prejudices over the last 30 years or apologized for the heavy insults he hurls here and there. His book offers populist theses and assertions to people already steeped in ideological prejudice, but no incentive for theological reflection or renewal.

The book is a renewal of the author’s theological-scientific self-disqualification, and could just as well be ignored. However, the accolades and praise he is receiving for his old postulates are cause for concern, as he in charge of preparing the 2019 Synod on the Amazon, which is supposed to serve as a model. Will the Synod deal primarily with the new forms of community leadership, contradicting the Pastores dabo vobis declaration? Will it fraternize with machinations contrary to the faith in the United States?[16]  If the Pope really is as favorable to the author as he imagines, then one could say: with such friends the Pope no longer needs enemies!

Prof. Dr. Johannes Stöhr

Humboldtstr. 44

50676 Köln

Portuguese translation from the German original by

Renato Murta de Vasconcelos

Positions and concepts emitted in signed articles are the sole responsibility of their authors.

[1]    “In any case, from a Christian background and based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is not difficult to reach the same conclusion: our responsibility for people and their environment, against marginalization and exclusion, for participation and encounter on an equal basis” (S. 137)

[2]    “,” interview of  November 30, 2017. Earlier, he stated: “Liberation theology is biblical even if today, cardinals, bishops, priests and layty are shocked and rise against it in the ‘conservative’ camp… but they do not want to renounce the old and ‘holy alliance’ with the rich and powerful because it is easier to live in an alliance with the rich and powerful” (Voralberger Kirchenblatt, March 4, 1991).

[3]    E. Kräutler, Die Nacht ist noch nicht vorüber, … Wiederholt sich die Geschichte?, Orientierung 56 (1992) 65-70, 80-84. He makes a similar speech at the annual gathering of Cusanuswerk on March 8, 1992: “500 of Latin America: The night has still not ended…,” Bonn, 1992, 26 pp.

[4]    Orientierung 56 (1992) ibd., p. 68

[5]    Ibd.

[6]    Ibd., p. 70

[7] “Even the Church was partly guilty … The good news became a message of violence and threat to the Indians. The official Church then failed. It did not dare to adhere to human rights but bowed to the Spanish and Portuguese crowns. The Church was not worried about evangelization … “(Kathpress, January 7, 1992).

 “There never was an ‘encounter’ between the two cultures, as is often stated. Indeed, it was a question of cultural destruction in which what mattered was gold, spices and power””(Kathpress, January 7, 1992). Yet, in the Aztec culture, they sacrificed human victims, with thousands of children, and especially children, sacrificed every year.

[8]   Hermann M. Görgen, 500 Jahre Lateinamerika – Licht und Schatten, 2Münster i. W. 1993, digitalized in 2008.

     Görgen was appointed ordinary professor at the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of Salisbury in 1938. He fled his country for political reasons. From 1950 to 1954, he taught at Juiz de Fora (Brazil). From 1957 to 1973, he was the head of the German Government’s Press and Information Office for special affairs with Latin America, and in 1959 became the special representative for Brazil of the German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer. In 1960, he founded the Brazil-Germany Society for Cultural Exchange between the two countries, and one year later, established the Latin American Center, an organization for development cooperation. Görgen played a decisive role also in the founding of the Catholic charitable organization Adveniat.

[9]    The German government’s theological schools have granted numerous honorary doctorates, although some of the honorees have not behaved properly (sometimes also donations have played a decisive role). For example, many turned against Cardinal Meisner’s appointment through the Cologne Declaration – without any member of the School ever having seen, heard him or read a single line of his writings or somehow getting to know better the situation of Cologne, so they did it for strictly ideological reasons. Kräutler’s case was not very different.

[10]    E. Kräutler, “Die Nacht ist noch nicht vorüber, … Wiederholt sich die Geschichte?”, Orientierung 56 (1992) 65-70, 80-84.

[11]    E. Kräutler, “Der Schrei der Völker von Lateinamerika: Wir wollen leben. Zum Bedenkjahr 1992”, Anzeiger für die Seelsorge, May 1992, 203-206; June 1992, 268-277.

[12]    Pressestelle der Erzdiözese Salzburg, Nr. 33/92 de 14. 3. 1992; Nr. 31/92 de 13. 3. 1992. Erzbischöfliches Sekretariat, 24.3.1992. See also Deutsche Tagespost, March 21, 1992.

[13]    Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Presbyters, no. 15 (January 31, 1994) Cf. Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Pastoral Guidelines for Diocesan Priests in Mission Territories (October 1, 1989); John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio (December 7, 1990), 54.67: AAS 83 (1991), 301-302; 315-316.


[15]    “A pyramidal church, oriented according to the scheme of ‘submission to the authority of God’ should give way to a Church that abandons all religious colonialism and cultivates dialogue instead of authoritarian tutelage and anachronistic inquisition … In the place of the pyramid must enter, according to the spirit of Jesus Christ, the ‘Eucharistic community’” (Voralberger Kirchenblatt, January 4, 1991).

[16]    “The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) supports the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate and call for the study of, and an open discussion for the ordination of women and married men to the priesthood” (


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