Cardinal urges change of celibacy rule

German cardinal urges change in tradition ahead of celibacy discussion

Jan 3, 2019

by Zita Ballinger Fletcher, Catholic News Service


German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising called for change in long-standing church tradition as the German bishops’ conference prepares for a workshop debate to “review” the issue of celibacy for priests.

In his homily at New Year’s Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Munich, Marx said the church must, “in light of the failure” surrounding the clergy sex abuse crisis, modify tradition in response to changing modern times.

“I believe the hour has come to deeply commit ourselves to open the way of the church to renewal and reform,” Marx said, according to a text of the homily posted on the archdiocesan website. “Evolution in society and historical demands have made tasks and urgent need for renewal clear to see.”

The cardinal, who is president of the German bishops’ conference, said that current measures to address sex abuse are not enough without adapting church teachings. “Yes, matters are about development and improvement and prevention and independent reviews — but more is also demanded,” he said.

“I am certain that the great renewal impulse of the Second Vatican Council is not being truly led forward and understood in its depth. We must further work on that,” he said. “Further adaptations of church teachings are required.”

The cardinal’s statements coincide with plans to openly debate the issue of celibacy at the German bishops’ permanent council meeting in the spring. The bishops have said the workshop during the meeting is a direct response to the abuse crisis.

Despite the Vatican’s call for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops not to vote in November on several proposals for responding to the sexual abuse crisis because of a lack of time given the Vatican to study the proposals and potential conflicts with church law, the German bishops plan to host numerous ecclesiastical and secular professionals from various disciplines to analyze celibacy.

Pressure to end mandatory priestly celibacy has risen in Germany following the renewal of the sex abuse scandal last year. The history and purpose of priestly celibacy is now a hotly contested issue in Germany, as sexual freedom is a core principle of modern German culture.

Secular media outlets have advocated the abolition of celibacy saying it is an outdated practice. German Catholics also have become skeptical of celibacy because of the tremendous influence of Protestantism on Christianity in the country. Last November, the lay Central Committee of German Catholics has voted by a large majority to abolish mandatory celibacy for priests.

“Truth is not final. We can recognize it deeper in the shared path of the church,” Marx said in his homily. He said he will take new stances on issues because it is his “duty as a priest and a bishop” to do so.

He added that Catholics must “leave behind categories like left and right, liberal and conservative and concentrate on the path of the Gospel in a concrete point in time.”

“Turn yourselves to a new thinking. To risk this thinking is important at the end of year and the beginning of a new year — not a flight into the rhetoric of the past,” he said.

“Naturally we stand in a great tradition — but this is not a complete tradition. It is a path into the future.”

In conclusion, Marx said that 2019 will be filled with “unrest and opposition” within the church because of any proposed changes in church tradition, “but this new thinking is required.”

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  1. Edward Butler says:

    I enthusiastically welcome Cardinal Marx’s words about the need to rethink the Church’s position on mandatory celibacy. Change is needed, not because of the sad reality of child abuse but because it is patently obvious that compulsory celibacy itself has failed and it is unnecessary. In UK where I served for 42 years any priest, young or old, who falls in love and is compelled to leave, rather than renounce that love, will more than likely be replaced by a married (former Anglican) priest who will fill the parochial house with wife, children and grandchildren. He will moreover do a splendid pastoral service. Small wonder the world thinks we are barmy.

  2. Rose Oliveira says:

    I also enthusiastically agree with ending priest celibacy. But let’s change that to not concentrating on the “sex” and abuse but rather let’s concentrate on the sacrament of holy matrimony for our beloved priests .
    Are priests not men, do priests not have feelings that God gave us to share and give yet they are told to hide it, contain it and be celibate. They have already experienced love of a woman prior to them entering the priesthood. They have given their heart to someone special but have had to renounce their love and affection that we were given to love and help grow together and hold dear to our hearts. They have experienced the love of a woman from their mother and have seen and felt the affection of being in the “ family” with sisters and brothers. How can they help someone in their parish who comes to them for guidance on having difficulties with their children, marriage or even themselves in following the commandments when he has not experienced the difficulties of children who abuse drugs or have gone down the wrong road and lay awake all night worrying and wondering if they will come home that evening or when sick will they get better and not loose that child. If a child is hurt, dies, abused how can they talk to a parishioner or anyone if they can not experience the pain and guide that person not lose faith in our Lord if they have not experienced that love or pain themselves or even the wife who has strayed how difficult it is to counsel someone that comes to them for help . How about financial counselling and help when the parent comes for help as to what to do and you have not experienced the pain of not having food for your children or clothes on their back.
    I am 68 years old and we as a family, with friends and other friends of other religions have spoken and discussed why is that their ministers or priests or Rabbi do marry and our catholic priests are not allowed. We find that many parishioners will not seek help or leave the church on account of …. “they will not understand what I’m going through or how it feels as they don’t have to worry about any pain or suffering that comes with having children and a wife/ husband at times”. So they change religion NOT their faith and go to the Anglican Church, the Jewish religion, or we have seen some even go to the Muslim religion so that they can pray together and seek help emotionally in body and our SOUL from priests that have family like we do and we have confidence that they know what it means to have children, a wife and what comes with them the worries and pain and give our parishioners more confidence in their Church and priest.
    So let’s STOP using celibacy and get that word out of our mind and lips as we are saying that being celibate is the only thing that is causing Child Abuse. Let’s say instead that our Catholic Religion is making changes so that our priests are not alone in helping their congregation but as a FAMILY (wife and children of their own) are more apt to understand and relate to the everyday suffering and what is going on in a family if they had their own wife to love, their own children to guide from birth and how to help guide that little family on to adult hood and having grandchildren and much more as we who do have that understanding.
    Our own priest in our church, a young wonderful loving, caring, dedicated, funny, giving priest was asked was he ever in love with a girl prior to him wanting to go to become a priest. It was a question we wished we never asked as he told us that he decided he wanted to be a priest at the age of 26. He was engaged to be married but felt he could do more for people and our faith if he dedicated himself to God and became a priest. He had to end his beautiful life of loving someone so dearly and having experienced the feelings and joy that go with those feelings so that he could become a priest . STOP and pull his heart out, stop his emotions, stop what God has made man and woman on earth to go out and multiple and have a family as Jesus had with Mary and Joseph and become a lonely man with no one to console him when needed. Where is the wife when he loses his parents or a sister or a brother or a friend. He had experienced all that with his fiancée and then boom all changed because he wanted to worship God as well. No where in the bible does it say our priests are not to marry and have children.
    My daughter had to go through marriage sessions prior to getting married in our Catholic Church and she was so, so, uncomfortable listening to this young priest talking about sex and other things in a marriage that she felt was so uncomfortable for him as he has never experienced that himself and talk about being true to one another and temptations and breaking one or 2 of the commandments………
    So please stop the word celibacy and concentrate on the sacrament of matrimony to be allowed so that our priests can truly experience the meaning of love, forgiveness, hardships, honesty and sincerly preach and guide his congregation and much more as God wanted it to be. He gave us a heart to love others, feelings to share with one person. We will see a big difference in our ministry and the growing of our faith and priesthood if we talk about the holy sacrament of Matrimony for our priests and the younger people will flock back to our Church.

  3. Brian Eyre says:

    Recently Cardinal Marx of Munich has said that the hour has come to open the way of the Church to renewal and reform and to consider a change in the discipline of celibacy. So the day may come when priests in the Latin Rite can marry if they so wish.
    Some thoughs though should be given to the profile of a priest’s wife for while she should be treated like any other wife, from the nature of the profession of her husband she will be singled out. This being so she will need to have a strong character, act and be herself and remember that she hasn’t got to be a mini priest. Her greatest and foremost role is to be a companion to her husband.
    We can see from examples of some of the greatest men in the world, men who carried out enormous responsibilities, were supported in their work by a wife and family. In life many men and women handle both a job and a family, doctors, surgeons, social workers etc have a very demanding life and in many cases they benefit from the companionship of a wife.
    If the priest’s wife though has pastoral experience of church work she will be a great help to her husband for she can bring to his pastoral work a feminine touch of dealing with people. My wife is a tremendous help to me in my pastoral work, we plan and do church work together and everyone knows that she is my wife.
    While as yet the discipline of celibacy is in force there is no harm at looking at the role of the married priest’s wife, for while today we have happy celibate priests, tomorrow we want to have happy married priests and for this it is very important that the priest make the right choice. Years ago, when I was a celibate priest in Brazil, the bishop of the diocese said to us priests at a meeting: “If you marry, choose well”. Today after 35 years of married life I understand how his words were full of wisdom.
    Some may say that a celibate priest can do more for people and their faith. I know many fine celibate priests who are doing wonderful work and help people draw close to Our Lord. The question though is not that. I can honestly say that the sacrament of matrimony which I also received has not hindered me in my priestly work. I have both a secular job in teaching and I have time for pastoral church work and my wife is a great help to me in all this.
    We know from the early church that the Apostles were married and were accompanied by their wives on their missionary journeys(1 Cor. 9, 3 – 7), as the popular saying goes: “Behind every great man there is a great woman”.

    Brian Eyre: Married Catholic priest

  4. Darlene Starrs says:

    Was the impetus of Vatican II to simply patch the old wineskin?
    Changing the celibacy rule is not necessarily ineffectual for a Church in crisis, but I believe it is only a patch. I believe the Lord wants a new wineskin period. Certainly, new thinking, is in the plan, but what else will it take to create a new wineskin? What will it take to create a New Church? Patching the old is not good enough and certainly is not meant to be the result of Vatican II.

  5. Kevin Walters says:

    Darlene Starrs @ 4

    Yes Darlene, it will only be a patch (sticking plaster) over an ever growing open wound (Divide) between the sexes, propagated from within the leadership of the Church. So having once again reflected on the problem of creating an inclusive Priesthood I have concluded that it will not be resolved, until the authoritarianism and elitism that is embedded within Clericalism which emanates from an abuse of this teaching given by Jesus Christ, is confronted.

    “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”

    Jesus appears to be conveying that His disciples do to take honour to themselves, which did not belong to them; nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father, and Himself, as these titles the Scribes and Pharisees loved to be called by, rather look to the mandate given at the last super, to those who would lead in His name’

    Pope Francis recently attempts to put new wine into old wine skins in these words

    “The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” he said to the officials of the Vatican. “It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience — we need to judge the past with a hermeneutics of the past — or spiritual and human myopia, treated many cases without the seriousness and prompt-ness that was due. That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church.”

    Credibility has been lost, so why should anyone accept this statement, as the root of the problem is one of authoritarianism and elitism, that is embedded within clericalism. This situation has to be tackled before any new structures (Wine skins) are put in place, as words are not enough.

    Only a true seen manifest transformation of the Priesthood will bring about a fundamental shift of culture and for this to happen the leadership of the Church will have to be led by the Holy Spirit to embrace humility. Because without a true reflection of the moral/humble/martyred leader-ship of Peter, by Pope Francis, it’s credibility will continue to be incredible.
    Someone has to lead in humility and restore credibility and as Peter it falls upon him to do so.

    Presently he could deal with the McCarrick and abuse crisis situation transparently, if he did so, he would have to show his own vulnerability/failings (as all, to some degree, have been compromised within Clericalism), at whatever the personal cost to himself, but if he did so, he would lead the church into a new era, one of the ‘Servant leader’. One who follows the teachings/dictates of Jesus Christ, setting an example before the leadership (Bishops), in been Peter, while he stops trying to maintain the status quo of an ‘old boys club’ which is compromising ‘all’ within the leadership.

    Our Lord Himself via the true divine Mercy Message/Image one of Broken Man has exposed the reality of a self-serving elitism embedded in Clericalism, emanating from arrogance before God and mankind. This exposer of hubris by divine intervention, demands a counter response by those who would be faithful before His inviolate Will (Word). And this can only be done in humility, as a humble heart (Church) will never cover its tracks or hide its short comings, and in doing so confers authenticity, as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart (Church) to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own ego/self, in serving God (Truth) first, before any other.

    Only in the walking of the ‘Way’ (Of humility) can the onward transformation of the human heart occur (An emptying of the selfhood/ego), as in the sacrificial image of Jesus Christ, a state, as

    “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven”

    For us Christian’s the continuity of gender (Male Authority/dominance) is nullified, as the sacrificial image of Christ is genderless, as it is reflected in both male and female, this truth gives Christianity the authority over all other religions to heal the divide between the sexes.

    I have a picture on my mantelpiece of St. Mother Teresa, when I look at her in my mind’s eye I see a vailed image of Christ, walking the ‘Way’ amongst the poor and broken, reflecting an image that is ‘neither male nor female’, to say that she is not a shepherd/ess, is surly an affront to God.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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