Cardinal Reinhard Marx has opened the door to the abolition of compulsory priestly celibacy, asking “Why not?”

– Coronavirus has “strengthened and accelerated” debates over reforms in the Church

The Archbishop of Munich and Freising in Germany broached the subject of a change in the Church’s discipline for priests November 21 in a sermon for the feast of archdiocesan patron St. Corbinian.

Marx noted that the coronavirus crisis has likely “strengthened and accelerated” debates over reforms in the Church, including around the priesthood.

“There is no Catholic Church without priests – but what does the future hold for priests?”, the cardinal asked in that sense. “Perhaps we will also have priests who are not celibate – why not?”

The question of whether to abolish compulsory priestly celibacy is one of the topics up for discussion in the German Church’s multi-year ‘synodal path’ reform process, where it is being discussed in the forum “Priestly existence today” alongside discussion groups on “Power and Separation of Powers in the Church – Joint Participation and Involvement in the
Missio”, “Life in succeeding relationships – Living Love in Sexuality and Partnership” and “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church”.

In all of those reform discussions, Marx urged participants to use the pandemic situation as a “creative break” from which to draw “daring, curiosity for the new and awakening”, conscious of the fact that “the Lord will show us the way”.

– To do God’s will, “we do not have to overexert ourselves. We simply have to give in to our inner drive for love”

Also at the weekend, Cardinal Marx gave a sermon for the feast of Christ the King November 22, in which he insisted that although the coronavirus “is not God’s judgment”, it nonetheless should “make us aware of what is really important”.

“Such a time as we are living now should make us aware that we are connected, that the weak belong in the centre, that we do not overlook the old and the sick, that we do not just push away the poverty in the world and say we are not interested in that”, Marx warned.

The perspective of the life to come brought into focus by the feast of Christ the King encourages us to remember Jesus’ question of what really matters in the end, the cardinal said. “What is enduring? Your share prices? Your economic growth? Your wars? Your monuments?”, Marx asked the faithful.

What Jesus expects of us is no burden, the cardinal insisted. “To give food to the hungry, to welcome a stranger, to visit the sick – that does not exceed human possibilities!”, Marx exclaimed, explaining that the feast of Christ the King is an invitation “to be part of the new creation”.

“We do not have to overexert ourselves. We simply have to give in to our inner drive for love”, the cardinal urged.

– “There is no alternative to ecumenism and the unity of Christians”

Earlier last week, Cardinal Marx granted an interview to the World Council of Churches in which he reflected on his being awarded – along with chair of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm – the 2020 Augsburg Peace Prize for the pair’s “unconditional will to live together in peace”.

“Real reconciliation of the denominations is possible”, Marx affirmed in that interview, stressing that “ecumenism is not about raising your profile at the cost of others, but to find common ground and emphasise it, for the sake of the people and the gospel”.

Insisting that “in ecumenism as in all other encounters, the following applies: without goodwill, without friendship, there is no real understanding”, the cardinal added that “I am encouraged in my ecumenical efforts by the works of Pope Francis, for whom the unity of Christians and the reconciliation of the religions is very close to his heart”.

“In Germany, we have a particular responsibility for the ecumenical, due to our Church history, which we should live up to, because the schism came from Germany. I personally believe that there is no alternative to ecumenism and the unity of Christians”, the cardinal said.

“The aim of visible unity in reconciled difference is very appealing to both Churches, but not unrealistic. Above all, I am convinced that Christianity – not only in Germany and Europe – will have a future, if we as Christians work strongly together ecumenically. Christ must be the focus here.

“Especially in our times, characterised by the coronavirus pandemic and so many (geo) political and social tensions, the message is important – that we are all linked worldwide, and all people are children of God, and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ”, the cardinal concluded.

More on Novena on the debate over compulsory priestly celibacy:

Groups representing 1.5 million German Catholics reiterate “urgent need for change” in Church to reverse “loss of credibility”

Austrian bishop insists ordination of women, married men “not excluded for all time”

German bishop says he “would be happy” with married male priests “today”

Irish cleric calls for “radical reappraisal” of priesthood to turn around “abysmal” vocations slide


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.