Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, arrives for the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican 2014. Catholic News Service

German cardinal urges change, 'review' of celibacy tradition

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  • January 4, 2019
WASHINGTON – 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, Cardinal 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," Cardinal 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," Cardinal 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, Cardinal 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."

Comments (6)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I don't believe any "new thinking" is required. Take the example of the Greek-Catholic church, where there has been a married Catholic clergy since the 16th century. Over a century ago, Metropolitan Sheptytsky reserved half the places in his...

I don't believe any "new thinking" is required. Take the example of the Greek-Catholic church, where there has been a married Catholic clergy since the 16th century. Over a century ago, Metropolitan Sheptytsky reserved half the places in his seminary for those wishing to be ordained celibate, and half for those wishing to marry before ordination. Celibacy was actually seen as more "modern" at that time and place, and more appropriate in view of economic and missionary realities. But seminarians could choose. Today, both married and celibate priests exist in the Greek-Catholic church, and both variants have their advantages and disadvantages. Now it may be true that celibacy is an inherent attribute of priesthood in the Latin tradition. In that case, perhaps prospective priests should be free to choose between Greek and Latin traditions?

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"sexual freedom is a core principle of modern German culture"

Now is just the time to hold the line on such a statement. Otherwise, divorce and remarriage for priests and all the other sexual excesses that the society suffers from.

This cannot...

"sexual freedom is a core principle of modern German culture"

Now is just the time to hold the line on such a statement. Otherwise, divorce and remarriage for priests and all the other sexual excesses that the society suffers from.

This cannot be a solution to the abuse crisis, since such abuses are also a problem in families, schools, etc.

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The western nations ultimately loves a free sex life. The Word "control or abstinence" are hated by them. They give the idea that sex is the most important thing in life. We see there the large scale divorce and breakdown of families and...

The western nations ultimately loves a free sex life. The Word "control or abstinence" are hated by them. They give the idea that sex is the most important thing in life. We see there the large scale divorce and breakdown of families and unrestricted styles of life. So the arguments of Cardinal Marx and his team are only to usher in a disordered society and not for Spiritual growth and holiness of individuals. Jesus led a celibate life. He had nowhere to lay his head. But we want more sex, more property more pleasures !

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As the Western nations have rejected Christ and gone secular they consider that sex is more for recreation and not procreation. This thinking has made them conclude that there is no sin in indulging in sex between consenting adults. Even Cardinal...

As the Western nations have rejected Christ and gone secular they consider that sex is more for recreation and not procreation. This thinking has made them conclude that there is no sin in indulging in sex between consenting adults. Even Cardinal Marx is part of that secular society and influenced by that than the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. Arguments against celibacy, for abortion , for gay marriage etc emanate from this wrong perception. There is no remedy as Faith in God and Church is absent. I appeal to Cardinal Marx and people of his ilk to learn more about Jesus,his sacrifice for saving the humanity , his Church and teachings. Please do not cause scandals.

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Bishop Marx's words are a good start, but we must go further. Despite Pope John-Paul's statement, women as much as men reflect God. The first witness to Jesus' resurrection was a woman, the Samaritan woman at the well was sent by Him to be a...

Bishop Marx's words are a good start, but we must go further. Despite Pope John-Paul's statement, women as much as men reflect God. The first witness to Jesus' resurrection was a woman, the Samaritan woman at the well was sent by Him to be a witness (Apostle) to her town and He refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery. If we look at Jewish history, the Passover meal (Seder) that Jesus ate with his disciples was a family meal so there were certainly many of His women disciples there as well as the men. Jesus did not say "You twelve do this in memory of me." The call would have been to the women as much as to the men. When are we to see the other half of Jesus' church brought into the flock rather that being limited to Altar Society and CWL. To claim that women have power in the church because they are secretaries and answer parish and diocesan phones is a very weak copout. In simple justice the priesthood must be opened to women. Gene Swain, Calgary.

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So let me get this straight... if those priests and bishops who have sexually abused minors and seminarians had been allowed to have wives, this abuse crises then would not have happened?... as if these men would have been good and healthy...

So let me get this straight... if those priests and bishops who have sexually abused minors and seminarians had been allowed to have wives, this abuse crises then would not have happened?... as if these men would have been good and healthy candidates for holy matrimony.

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