Church in the World
Cardinals clash over celibacy rule Christa Pongratz-Lippitt - 12 February 2011
An appeal to the Pope by a group of top German Catholics to relax the mandatory celibacy rule for priests has led to a public row between two cardinals and further calls for reform. In an open letter, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, who received his red hat at the last consistory, attacked the politicians accusing them of offending Christ himself. But the former long-standing president of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, 74, defended them, and said he was ashamed by the tone of Cardinal Brandmüller’s letter.
The cardinals’ disagreement was sparked by a statement from the President of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, and the Education Minister, Annette Schavan, who said the drastic shortage of priests meant the Pope should consider allowing the ordination of proven married men or viri probati (see The Tablet, 29 January).
“You don’t seem to have realised that you have offended Jesus Christ, the Son of God. A priest who lives a celibate life does nothing more than adopt his Master’s lifestyle as his own,” said Cardinal Brandmüller, 82, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, in his letter published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily on 26 January.
He went on to accuse the politicians of wanting a “national Church” for Germany which in his eyes amounted to schism. Asked in an interview in the Augsburger Allgemeine why the Church accepted Anglican married priests who converted, Cardinal Brandmüller said this exception to the celibacy rule was restricted to the present generation.
In the politicians’ defence, Cardinal Lehmann,Bishop of Mainz, said it was crucial to discuss new forms of priestly ordination. He called for the question of ordaining married men to be discussed during the “Dialogue Process” which the German bishops plan to hold in the aftermath of the abuse scandals that exploded last year.
On the tone of Cardinal Brandmüller’s letter Cardinal Lehmann told the church paper Glaube und Leben: “I, as a bishop who has been active in Germany for many years, felt ashamed for the tone in which this letter was written.” Calling for the ordination of married men was not a call for a different Church nor was it approaching a schism, he insisted. He said he was deeply disappointed by the way Cardinal Brandmüller had rebuked the President of the Bundestag and other politicians who had served the Church for years.
Meanwhile the 1970 “Memorandum Regarding the Discussion of Celibacy” signed at the time by nine German theologians including Joseph Ratzinger, Karl Rahner, Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann, and urging the German bishops to appeal to Pope Paul VI for a serious examination of the celibacy rule on account of the shortage of priests, was published in full in the Süddeutsche daily.
Then on 3 February, 208 Catholic theologians from Germany, Austria and Switzerland published a memorandum entitled “Church 2011: A Necessary New Departure”, again in the Süddeutsche, urging their bishops to introduce sweeping reforms including the ordination of married men and the ordination of women (see the Tablet website for the full text in English of both memoranda).
The latest to speak out in favour of relaxing the celibacy rule is Professor Wolfgang Beinert, a former assistant of Joseph Ratzinger and a member of the Ratzinger scholars’ circle or Schülerkreis, who is in close contact with Pope Benedict. “The figures [of the number of priests] are so alarming that one cannot just go back to business as usual,” Professor Beinert said. According to his information the Vatican was considering changes regarding the celibacy issue, but there have been no recent statements supporting this.
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