A German bishop has said he “would be happy” with married male priests “today”.

– Support for ordination of married men, but ordination of women the “wrong goal… today”

“I would be happy if we had viri probati today”, Franz-Josef Overbeck, the bishop of Essen and the German military bishop, said in a panel discussion in Mülheim, according to a story published on the diocesan website October 7.

Viri probati is the Latin term for married “men of proven virtue” upon whom bishops, following the example of the early Church and the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, may confer priestly ordination in exceptional circumstances.

Since the lead-up to last October’s Synod on the Amazon in the Vatican, there have been widespread calls to extend those circumstances in the Latin rite Church: not least from Synod Fathers themselves, who voted for married male priests by a majority of 128-41.

Pope Francis, however, did not move forward with the proposal in his February 2020 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, later explaining that although at the Synod there was a “rich” and “well-founded” discussion on the ordination of married, there was no real “discernment” on the question, “which is something different from arriving at a good and justified consensus or relative majority”.

Despite his support for the immediate ordination of married men, Overbeck was more reserved on the question of women priests, although he backed further discussion on that issue.

“Anyone who want the priesthood of women today has the wrong goal for today – not for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but for today”, the bishop affirmed.

– Nun: “We need the vision of the women’s priesthood today: we cannot postpone it to Saint Never’s Day”

Overbeck was participating in a “Dialogue with the bishop” event on the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process, which along with the ordination of married men and women is also looking into possible changes to the exercise of power in the Church and to traditional Catholic sexual morality.

On the subject of the ordination of women, Overbeck ran into resistance from Benedictine nun Philippa Rath, who joined the bishop on the panel and also is participating with him in the synodal path discussions.

“We need the vision of the women’s priesthood today: we cannot postpone it to Saint Never’s Day”, Rath argued.

The sister – a member of the synodal path forum on the place of women in the Church – warned that more and more women, even devoted ones, are leaving the Church, frustrated as they are with the inaction of the hierarchy on women’s rights.

“Even the old women who have been committed for decades no longer have patience”, Rath cautioned.

Along with Overbeck and Rath, another participant in the panel discussion in Mülheim was University of Böchum professor of theology Matthias Sellmann, who denounced the “great deal of an uncontrolled exercise of power” that exists in the Church.

To overcome that lack of control over the authority exercised by priests and bishops, Sellmann suggested more democracy in priestly and episcopal appointments.

The academic also proposed term limits for the assignments given to priests and bishops and also “real faculties for co-determination” for laypeople, on parish councils for example.

More on Novena on calls to overhaul compulsory priestly celibacy:

“The discussion is still alive”: German archbishop, Austrian bishop want more debate on ordination of women

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

Austrian clerics push bishops to petition Vatican for male and female married priests

Seven years on, is the promise of real reform with Pope Francis dead in the water?

German theologian: Church needs “radical change” to exit “dead end” on vital reforms


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