The new head of the German Bishop’s conference, Bishop Zollitsch, has raised a minor fuss in Germany by his comments on celibacy. According to Der Spiegel

Der Freiburger Erzbischof und neugewählte Vorsitzende der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz, Robert Zollitsch, spricht sich “gegen Denkverbote” beim Thema Zölibat aus. Im Gespräch mit dem SPIEGEL sagt der 69-Jährige, die Verbindung zwischen Priestertum und Ehelosigkeit sei “nicht theologisch notwendig.”

Für die katholische Kirche bedeutet diese Aussage eine radikale Abkehr von der bisherigen Praxis. Das ist auch Zollitsch bewusst: Ein Abschied vom Zölibat “wäre eine Revolution, bei der ein Teil der Kirche nicht mitginge”, sagt er. Nötig wäre dafür ein Konzil, weil in das innere Leben der gesamten Kirche eingegriffen werden würde.

The Archbishop of Freiburg and the newly chosen head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Robert Zollitsch pronounced “against the forbidding of thinking” about the matter of celibacy. In an interview with Der Spiegel the 69-year old said that the connection between priesthood and the state of being unmarried is “not theologically necessary.”

For the Catholic Church this statement signifies a radical change from current practice. Zollitsch is conscious of that: a departure from celibacy would be a revolution, with which part of the Church would not go along,” he said Therefore for this a Council would be necessary, because it would be enmeshed in he inner life of the whole Church.”

Other bishops harrumphed and said there were no plans to change the rule of celibacy in the Latin Church. Regennsburg Bishop Gerhard Müller’s comments are however undermined by his failure in judgment in handling a pedophile case, that of Peter Kramer (I will soon post my case study of this matter  on my website).

A novelist, Gabriele Kuby, weighed in and said

Unsere Kirche befindet sich im freien Fall. In zehn Jahren wird es nur noch die Hälfte an Priestern und Gläubigen geben. Der Islam wächst unaufhaltsam im eigenen Land. Spricht nicht alles dafür, in dieser geschichtlichen Stunde die Kirche durch Einheit mit dem Papst zu stärken, einem deutschen Papst, der über der Welt die Wahrheit ausruft und die Hoffnung stärkt?

Our Church finds itself in free fall. In ten years there will only be half as many priests and believers. Islam grows unceasingly in this country. In this historical moment isn’t there is a lot to be said for strengthening the the Church through unity with the Pope, a German Pope who crieds out the truth to the world and strengthens hope? 

Zollitisch said that

1.      Catholics should not be forbidden to think about celibacy.

2.      Celibacy is not theologically necessary to the priesthood. This is of course true; the Eastern Churches have married priests, and the Latin Church has former Episcopal priests who were ordained as Catholic priests and are married.

3.      Any change in the rule if celibacy would be a revolution and would not be accepted by part of the Church. This is also true, and the objectors to Zollitsch’s remarks demonstrate it

4.      Therefore if the rule of celibacy were changed, it should be done only by a General Council (and by implication, not by the pope’s action alone). This would seem to limit the possibility of any change, rather than make it easier.

Those who objected to him said

1.      He shouldn’t have brought the matter up.

2.      The question of celibacy for Latin priests is settled and Zollitsch’s remarks  imply it is an open question.

3.      Catholics should follow the lead of the Pope in this matter.

4.      Catholic should be united and disciple to face the problems of the decline of Catholicism and the rise of Islam in Germany.

Creeping infallibility is a problem in the church. Administrative decisions of popes, not to mention those of bishops and priests, are not infallible. If a Catholic after reflection thinks that a policy or decision is harmful to the Church what should he do?

Celibacy is not a matter of dogma; it is a discipline that has created problems, but which in the judgment of many people has served the Latin Church well. Others focus on the problems and would like to see the Eastern discipline introduced in the Latin Church: married men could be ordained, but monks would remain celibate and bishops would be chosen from the ranks of celibate priests.

But the popes have strongly supported the rule of celibacy, and the situation of Catholicism seems to demand a reaffirmation of the marks of Catholic identity rather than further changes.

In my book Sacrilege, I propose that the Eastern Churches throughout the world be allowed to ordain married men (the Irish bishops in the U. S. long ago persuaded the Vatican to limit the Eastern tradition to the historic homeland of Eastern Europe) and that the Eastern Churches be encouraged to plant churches throughout the west. Among other and more important things, this would allow Catholics to see how a married clergy works out in modern society and for the whole church, law and clerical, to decide whether it is a good idea to change the Latin discipline.

For my part, I think it would be better for the Church to have a married clergy and a transcendent liturgy rather than a narcissistic celibate clergy who wear clown wigs and behave like Las Vegas MCs at Mass. Perhaps the prospect of facing a wife’s comments would dampen priests’ enthusiasm for making utter asses of themselves at Mass.

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