The Catholic Church should end its policy of celibacy for priests

The Catholic Church is desperately short of priests. If they dropped their celibacy and male-only requirements, it would open up a stimulating new pool.

By Gerry O’Shea

I cannot think of one good reason for the Catholic church to continue its policy of compulsory celibacy for priests. I search my mind in vain for any cogent explanation for maintaining the present damaging discipline.

Up to the Second Lateran Council in 1139, most priests married, sharing that experience with the majority of the families in the pews. It seems that the main reason for the unfortunate policy alteration related to priests’ children claiming inheritance based on parentage. Understandably, this clashed with the church’s commitment to maintain ownership of any accumulated wealth.

The inheritance problem could and should have been dealt with by other means than the extreme prohibition against marriage by priests. Sigmund Freud asserts that after self-preservation, the next most demanding human drive involves procreation, and celibates must find ways to respond to that human sexual imperative as much as married men.

In the last 50 years, the Roman Catholic Church has been battered by a seemingly endless succession of child-abuse scandals. We are talking about priests and brothers demanding a full range of sexual favors from innocent children and using the power of their clerical status to intimidate their victims into silence about their “special relationship.”

If the dire behavior was reported to the church authorities, the bishops and other powerful men in chancery offices sought to protect their institution by moving the culprits around where, in a new setting, they often continued their sexual rampage. Parents trusted these men because of the roman collar they were wearing.

Abused children felt isolated and many suffered long-term negative consequences, including a plethora of suicides. It is hard to imagine the sense of abandonment felt by the church faithful as the depth of the betrayal sank in.

Today, clerical leaders have lost credibility and carry a red question mark on their soutanes.

Predictably, disillusioned Catholics left the church in droves as they realized the early defense metaphor about a few bad apples was fatuous when the reality showed the whole orchard rotting. Trust in the American church among parishioners fell from a credible 70 percent to a measly 20 percent, and weekly Mass attendance folded from 31 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2021.

Revelations are still flowing in as major diocesan and national organizations reveal that the rot was not confined to any geographical area. The stories from missionary countries, staffed mostly by Western priests and brothers, are only seeping out now.

Some of these men making their way into cultures with different sexual traditions and expectations found satisfaction with mature local women. Children from these clandestine relationships present new challenges, especially for the welfare of unclaimed children.

A French investigation last year concluded that at least 216,000 children had been abused there over the last 70 years. The numbers from other inquiries are just as damning. Early indications from an ongoing major Portuguese probe suggest that another bombshell revelation is on the way from that Catholic country.

The dismal numbers have fueled calls for change. Already strict instructions from Rome have ensured that any church official – priest, brother, or layman – credibly accused of misbehavior in the sexual area is immediately suspended and the local police are informed of the alleged transgression – very different from past practices.

Church leaders regularly trot out the spurious argument that by forgoing marriage priests emulate Jesus and can devote themselves more fully to their flock. In fact, Christ chose mostly married men among his apostles, and we read in Matthew’s gospel that he healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a fever.

The disastrous handling of the abuse crisis by male celibates has raised the important question of how parents would have dealt with it if they had any clout. Would they have hushed up the allegations and shuffled the pervert priests around to other parishes, hoping, somehow, that they would behave differently in a new place?

Sex abusers seem to be unusually common among the clergy, perhaps because the job offers a plenitude of opportunity to meet with children and, until recently, to enjoy unqualified parental approval for this access. Some professionals estimate that between six to nine percent of priests have strong pedophile tendencies by comparison with one to three percent in the general population.

Irish psychologist Marie Keenan argues that abusive priests are products of a twisted formation system that left them fixated at an adolescent level of sexual development.

The first acknowledged Christian theologian, Tertullian, viewed sexuality as a “bubbling cesspit of desire.” For him, it was the sin that transcended all others and women were seen as man’s downfall, a view that was later seconded by Augustine of Hippo whose misogynistic thinking still influences Rome’s approach to females.

Reflecting on this whole area of caring for the young, women are far less likely to engage in sexually abusive behavior than men.

Many Eastern-rite churches, aligned to Rome, let their priests marry before ordination. Significantly, these churches have low levels of reported sex abuse.

The Catholic Church is desperately short of priests. If they dropped their celibacy and male-only requirements, it would open up a stimulating new pool. Many aspirants are unwilling to give up sex and parenting, and that will continue as a deterrent until the Vatican changes the rules.

Priestly celibacy continues as a topic of contentious debate among the 1.4 billion Catholics worldwide. Outside of Africa, a clear majority of the church members want change.

This carries some weight but is not determinative. The prelates, the men with the power, must be convinced of the need for new ecclesial structures, and most will use any phony argument to maintain the status quo and their own continuing authority.

Leave aside for a moment the various power games that many in the hierarchy will continue to play to justify holding on to the status quo, and concentrate instead on the awful damage that mandatory celibacy does to the men who are forced to follow this outdated and dehumanizing rule.

Obligatory virginity for priests may have made sense in the culture of the 12th century, but it certainly does not today.

In a recent speech Desmond Cahill, an Australian professor and expert on world religions, says many priests “are terrorized with their own sexual desire.”

Father Daniel O’Leary from the village of Rathmore in Co. Kerry served as a parish priest and theology professor in England until his death a few years ago. He authored a dozen books, and in his last essay before he faced what he called “the final inspection” he wrote movingly of celibacy as “a kind of sin, an assault against nature and God’s will. This mandatory celibacy does violence to a priest’s humanity and leaves wounds on his ministry.”

Is there any chance that Rome will heed O’Leary’s profound words and move from its antiquated ways?

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican slams German reformers, warns of potential for schism

The Holy See rebuked the progressive “Synodal Path,” which seeks more agency for lay members, saying it has no authority on doctrine. They warned that issues taken up by the group could split the Catholic Church.

Shepherds in Rome have been criticized for the mishandling of scandals but refuse to share power with the flock

The Vatican on Thursday issued a terse statement on the progressive German Catholic movement known as the “Synodal Path.” The statement warned German reformers they had no authority to instruct bishops on moral or doctrinal matters.

Moreover, the Holy See made clear that it views the Synodal Path’s calls for addressing homosexuality, celibacy, and women in the Church as divisive and warned those calls could cause a fracture.

Members of the Synodal Path, a group made up of equal numbers of German bishops and lay Catholics, meet regularly. In February, they called on the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry, women to become deacons, and same-sex couples to receive the Church’s blessing.

The Vatican, or Holy See, said the Synodal Path, “does not have the faculty to oblige bishops and the faithful to assume new forms of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals.”

To do so, read the statement, “would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”

German reformers responded to Vatican statement with ‘astonishment’

Speaking on behalf of the Synodal Path, Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference Georg Bätzig and President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) Irme Stetter-Karp, said they were “astonished” at the “poor form” the Vatican had shown by releasing such a statement to the public without putting a name to it.

Both Bätzig and Stetter-Karp vowed there would be no “German deviation” but said it is their “responsibility to clearly point out where change is needed.” The two say the problems they are addressing are not unique to Germany, but common to dioceses all over the world.

Bätzig and Stetter-Karp voiced “bemused regret” over the fact that no direct communication with the Vatican had yet taken place.

On Saturday, the German Catholic women’s movement Maria 2.0 (Mary 2.0) said church leaders should not fear confrontation with the Vatican.

Theologian Maria Mesrian, who represents the group, told Deutschlandfunk Radio that the bishops will have to “decide whether they want a living church in Germany or whether they would rather lead a dead institution.”

Mesrian said the Vatican is all about “power and the unity of the omnipresent church.”

Hundreds of thousands leave Catholic Church over lack of reform

The German group, formed in the wake of woefully mishandled clergy sexual abuse scandals, also calls for ordinary Catholics to have more of a say in how the Church operates. The Vatican again warned that if national Churches chose to pursue their own paths they would, “weaken, rot and die.”

In 2021, 360,000 Catholics formally left the German Church— which has 22 million members in the country and rakes in €6.45 billion ($6.58 billion) in church taxes every year — in protest at corruption and abuse

Although progressive European and US Catholics would likely be willing to support progressive issues, such as blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining women, Rome would risk backlash with fast-growing South American and African congregations.

In 2019, Pope Francis warned German bishops against the temptation to change for the sake of appeasing certain groups or ideas. Observers speculate that the reforms could leave the Catholic Church open to a splintering, similar to the one which befell the Anglican and Protestant Churches after they introduced similar changes.

According to the Vatican statement, any changes to teaching on morals or doctrine must be taken up by the Church’s own synodal path. The Holy See said preliminary consultations are already being held globally in preparation for a meeting of bishops next year in Rome.

The next gathering of the German Synodal Path is scheduled to convene on September 8-10.


Spanish Church to mull optional celibacy and women priests

Spanish Catholics want Rome to consider talks on the future of the priesthood including optional celibacy, the ordination of women, and also of married men.

Spanish priests celebrate a mass at the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona.

Spanish Catholics want Rome to consider talks on the future of the priesthood including optional celibacy, the ordination of women and also of married men, a key document showed Saturday.

The document, a copy of which was seen by AFP, was unveiled by the CEE Episcopal Conference that groups Spain’s leading bishops at a 600-strong gathering in Madrid.

It was drawn up after months of consultation with more than 215,000 people, mostly lay people but also priests and bishops, with the proposals to be condensed into a final document that will be presented to next year’s Bishops in Synod assembly at the Vatican.

In it, they stress “the need to discern in greater depth about the question of optional celibacy for priests and the ordination of married people; to a lesser extent, the issue of the ordination of women has also arisen,” it said, while noting such issues were raised only in certain dioceses.

“There is a clear request that, as a Church, we hold dialogue about these issues… to be able to offer a more holistic approach to our society,” it said. It also stressed the need to “rethink the role of women in the Church” to
give them “greater leadership and responsibility” notably in places “where decisions are made”.

There was also “a need for greater care” for those who have been divorced or remarried or with an alternative sexual orientation. “We feel that, as a Church… we must welcome and accompany each person in their specific situation,” it said.

The document was unveiled just months after lawmakers approved Spain’s first official probe into child sex abuse within the Catholic Church through an expert independent committee.

The Church itself also took its first steps earlier this year towards addressing alleged abuse by clergy by engaging lawyers to conduct a year-long investigation that will take cues from similar probes in France and Germany.

Complete Article HERE!

Munich report on sex abuse heightens Catholic Church divide over sexuality

Benedict XVI’s supporters believe attacks on the emeritus pope’s handling of sexual abuse while archbishop of Munich are aimed at reinforcing progressive views on sexuality and priestly celibacy.

With the towers of the cathedral in the background, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, bids farewell to the Bavarian believers in downtown Munich, Germany, Feb. 28, 1982. The Vatican on Jan. 26, 2022, strongly defended Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s record in fighting clergy sexual abuse and cautioned against looking for “easy scapegoats and summary judgments,” after an independent report faulted his handling of four cases of abuse when he was archbishop of Munich.


Supporters of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rose to his defense in the past week after a report on decades of sexual abuse in his former archdiocese in Munich accused the retired pontiff of covering up and ignoring abuse by Catholic priests there.

But some believe the defense of Benedict is less about his legacy and more about the deepening polarization in the Catholic Church and its approach to homosexuality and priestly celibacy, issues that are both now center stage in Germany.

“I don’t think the report is going to change the mind of people either way” when it comes to Benedict, said Bill Donohue, longtime president of the Catholic League, a conservative watchdog and promoter of the church.

Benedict “is hated by the Catholic left because he is the one who really enforced the Scriptures of the Catholic Church as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith,” said Donahue, referring to the prelate’s tenure during the papacy of St. John Paul II as an enforcer of Catholic dogma, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned the title “God’s Rottweiler.”

“The impending schism in Germany is far more serious than this,” said Donahue, who called himself proud to be called “the Rottweiler’s Rottweiler.”

A report from the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, published Jan. 10, found that bishops who oversaw the diocese between 1945 and 2019, including Ratzinger, failed to punish clergy and laypeople who committed sexual abuse.

More importantly for many Catholics, however, is the movement in the wider German church that has involved the country’s Catholics in wide-ranging discussions of the most pressing issues facing the institution, including sexual abuse, for nearly three years. The “Synodal Path,” as the discussions are known, followed a 2018 report that scandalized Catholics in the country when it found more than 37,000 cases of clerical abuse in Germany over the span of 68 years, leading to a massive exodus of faithful.

The Synodal Path discussions ended in early February under the shadow of the revelations from Munich. Even after Benedict responded contritely to the accusations, German Catholics felt “disappointed,” said Claudia Lücking-Michel, vice president of the Central Committee for German Catholics and a delegate to the Synodal Path.

While the Synodal Path addresses a wide array of topics facing the local church, including female ordination and power structures, the question of homosexuality “is currently at the very center of public discussion,” Lücking said.

The report, she said, “was the last drop that made the cup overflow.”

While many Germans identify clericalism — the abuse of power by Catholic clergy — as the main culprit for the church’s systemic failure to respond to sexual abuse, some Catholic conservatives blame the presence of homosexuals in the church.

“We have a homosexual scandal here, not a pedophilia scandal,” Donohue said. “Clericalism may have something to do with why some bishops were enabled, but it has nothing to do with why a man would put his hands on a minor.”

Equating homosexuality with pedophilia is strongly contested in the Synodal Path discussions, according to Lücking. “Homosexuality has nothing to do with pedophilia,” she said.

While the majority of Catholics in Western countries agree that homosexuality should be accepted in society, the question of homosexuality and priestly celibacy is more controversial in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. As the Vatican struggles to adapt church teaching with modern understanding of sex and sexuality, the issue has the power to tear the global church apart.

“This report and the entire sexual abuse scandal, a sad page for the church in Germany, is being exploited to bring about a new church,” said the Rev. Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai, a Catholic priest from Cameroon who teaches theology and philosophy at Boston College.

According to Agbaw-Ebai, who wrote his dissertation on Benedict, the Munich report offered Benedict’s detractors “their pound of flesh” and strengthened the position of those who want to push Catholic doctrine toward the demands of modernity.

Germany’s Synodal Path is the surest sign of that push. On Feb. 5, its plenary assembly approved four documents proposing a “reevaluation of homosexuality” and challenging Catholic doctrine forbidding female ordination and requiring priestly celibacy.

“The synod has changed,” Lücking said, “you can feel the difference at the plenary. There are more and more bishops saying we have to act, we have to change, there is no other way out of the crisis.”

On Feb. 3, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, supported a renewed study on priestly celibacy and told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “For some priests, it would be better if they were married.”

Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, meanwhile, has proposed that the church’s teaching on homosexuality “is no longer correct.” Hollerich has been named by Pope Francis to oversee the Synod on Synodality, a self-examination of church practices underway in dioceses around the world that will conclude with a summit at the Vatican in 2023.

The concern for Catholic conservatives is that the progressive stance of German prelates will influence Francis’ ambitious reform efforts for the church as a whole.

In Germany “you have a rebellion going on,” Donohue said. “This synod process that is going to go forward is an open invitation for people to exploit any friction in the Catholic Church,” he said, adding that progressive Catholics “will use Benedict as another weapon in their arsenal.”

But Agbaw-Ebai contends that “what is happening in Germany is clearly a result of the actions and statements of today’s Vatican,” pointing to Francis’ willingness to engage with the Catholic LGBTQ community early in his pontificate.

The pope’s position on this issue, however, has been ambiguous. During a closed-door meeting with Italian prelates in May 2018, Francis suggested that bishops should “keep an eye” on homosexual tendencies in people entering the seminary, stating that “if in doubt, better not let them enter.”

Francis’ words seemed to echo a 2005 document published by Benedict stating that people with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies should be barred from entering the priesthood.

Donohue agrees that the pope, despite his outreach to LGBTQ Catholics, has done little to change the official Catholic position and has put a firm halt to requests for female ordination and the blessing of same-sex couples. “It’s one thing to be pastoral, it’s another to change the doctrine,” Donohue said.

He said he buys Benedict’s prediction that the church is destined to shrink to a small group of true believers. It’s unlikely that conservative Catholics will be the ones to leave, he said, unless the Vatican embraces “radical teachings” like those discussed in Germany. He blames the Vatican for allowing the German Synodal Path to “raise people’s expectations in a regrettable way.”

For Lücking, if the Vatican doesn’t take the proposals of the Synodal Path, then “the Catholic Church in Germany will become a minority, a sect,” but she said she still harbors “the illusion” that what is happening in Germany may still clear the path for progress.

“It might not be tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but it will happen one day,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

German cardinal says priests should be allowed to marry

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has called the Catholic Church practice of celibacy for priests “precarious,” and has said “sexuality is part of being human.”

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has repeatedly called for reforms within the Catholic Church

The archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, has called for the Catholic Church to consider ending celibacy for priests, saying they should be allowed to marry if they wish.

“It would be better for everyone to create the possibility of having both celibate and married priests,” Marx said in comments to be published in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Thursday.

“For some priests, it would be better if they were married. Not just for sexual reasons, but because it would be better for their lives and they wouldn’t be so lonely,” Marx told the paper.

“I think that things as they are cannot continue like this,” he said.

Sexual abuse scandal

His Archdiocese of Munich and Freising was the focus of a damning report in January that highlighted decades of sexual abuse by priests.

The report accused Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a former archbishop of Munich, of failing to take action against four suspected perpetrators. Marx himself was also accused of not taking action.

In 2021, Marx offered to resign over the church’s “institutional and systemic failure” in its handling of child sex abuse scandals. But Pope Francis rejected his offer, saying the cardinal should stay in his post and help push for reforms.

Celibacy, women priests up for discussion

Marx told the German newspaper that the practice of celibacy was “precarious,” but refused to draw a link between celibacy and cases of abuse that have shaken the Catholic Church around the world.

“This way of life and this grouping of men draws in people who are unsuited and who might not be mature,” he said. “But sexuality is part of being human.”

Marx was tight-lipped on the question of whether women should be priests, saying only that it was a topic that was being discussed inside the church.

“I’m not just a person who has an opinion,” he said. “I have to help hold the organization together.”

A new assembly aimed at reforming the German Catholic Church is set to begin in Frankfurt on Thursday. It is expected to address a number of topics, including the position of women in the church, Catholic sexual morality and celibacy.

Complete Article HERE!