A Vienna auxiliary bishop has spoken out in support of easing compulsory priestly celibacy.

Driving the news

Compulsory priestly celibacy “is something disposable”, Stephan Turnovszky told Der Standard in a Christmas interview December 24.

Stressing that he was not in favour of abolishing the centuries-old practice of priestly continence entirely, the prelate added: “Celibacy will always exist. The question is whether it is an obligation”.

Go deeper

As the reason for his wanting to make priestly celibacy optional, Turnovszky explained that “we no longer have the number of priests to fill all the posts”.

At the same time, the auxiliary to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn warned against simply ordaining married priests so as “just to keep the current system going”, as “that would be too clerical”.

“It is not easy, but it is important” to create a top-down shift where laypeople can take the initiative with their priests’ support, and not the other way around, Turnovszky explained.

Why it matters

The Vienna auxiliary played down similarities in his reasoning for optional celibacy with those arguments advanced during October’s Amazon Synod.

The Synod also came out in favour of ordaining to the priesthood married men of tried and tested virtue (viri probati), but for different reasons than can be applied in Austria, Turnovszky clarified.

Whereas in the Amazon there are dioceses up to three times the size of Austria with no more than thirty priests, “if you compare the priestly density here [in Austria] with that in other parts of the world, we have one of the highest priestly densities – both priests per believer and priests per square kilometre”, the auxiliary bishop explained.

What’s next

Turnovszky freely admitted that “there is indeed a shortage of priests in Austria when you compare the current number of priests with the one from the past”.

The only question, for the auxiliary, before introducing married priests in Austria is a deeper reflection on what priesthood is about today and what it should offer.

“If you decide for married priests without answering that, there is a great risk that you will have ordained tried and tested men in the congregations, but the essentials will remain unchanged” in terms of an excessive focus on priesthood and the associated plague of clericalism, Turnovszky warned.

Next on Novena:

Austrian Church celebrates 50 years of “professional and family skills” of married permanent deacons

Key German Church figures continue to push for end to compulsory celibacy: “The old days are over”

Pope’s Amazon Synod document in danger due to senior cardinals’ resistance to give up priestly celibacy

‘Pope’s theologian’ convinced that “in time, doors will be opened” to women at altar