The head of Germany’s highest lay body has urged the ordination of married male and female priests to halt what he has called the “catastrophe” of the slide in vocations to the priesthood.

– “We need viri probati, we need women priests and the profession itself must become more attractive again”

“Last year there was one new ordination for every eleven retiring priests – if you calculate that further, you can see the catastrophe that will lead to”, President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, told German Catholic news agency KNA July 10.

“We would need 200 or 300 new ordinations every year – but we are far from that”, Sternberg lamented.

To plug the current lack of priests, therefore – a shortage expected only to get worse in the future – the ZdK head called for a change in the criteria of admission into seminaries to include male candidates who are married – known in the Church as viri probati, “married men of proven virtue” – and females.

“We need viri probati, we need in the long run also the women’s priesthood and the profession itself must become more attractive again”, Sternberg insisted.

– Ordinations remain at historically low levels: 57 in 2020, according to paper

Sternberg was commenting on a survey carried out by the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper that revealed the “alarming development”, in the ZdK President’s words, that priestly ordinations in Germany this year will remain at record low levels.

According to the survey, 2020 will see a total of just 57 priestly ordinations in Germany’s 27 dioceses, not including new religious priests – what KNA said was the second lowest figure in history after only 55 ordinations in 2019.

The new Augsburger Allgemeine survey numbers reveal that in the last twenty years – from 2000, when there were 154 newly-made priests – ordinations in Germany in Germany have plunged by 63%.

According to the newspaper, to the end of June only 25 ordinations had been carried out this year in the country, though the coronavirus has impacted on that, with several ceremonies being postponed. Still, the Augsburger Allgemeine noted that no ordinations at all are presently on the agenda in at least four dioceses: Aachen, Erfurt, Görlitz and Hildesheim.

And the downward trend shows no sign of letting up, as new admissions to seminaries are also remaining at low levels.

In the decade of the 2000s, the number of yearly ordinations nationwide oscillated between 81 and 131; in the 1990s between 139 and 295. However, a decline in new vocations in Germany was also registered between 1962 (557) and 1970 (303).

– Almost another third of German Catholics considering leaving the Church: survey

ZdK President Sternberg’s appeal for married male and female priests is even more urgent in the light of other survey results out of Germany this week which suggested that 30% of German Catholics are considering leaving the Church.

Almost a third of the 2,040 survey respondents agreed with the statement put to them by Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost: “I am a member of the Church and can imagine leaving the Church soon”.

54% of Catholics disagreed with the statement, 9% said they weren’t sure, and 7% declined to answer.

Die Tagespost also members of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) – a body representing 20 Protestant groups including Lutherans – 26% of whom said they could imagine leaving their Church.

The Augsburger Allgemeine ordination numbers and the Die Tagespost survey results reveal once again the urgency of the German Catholic Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform discussions, in which bishops, priests, laity and outside experts are discussing possile changes to Church doctrine and practice around the exercise of power and authority in the Church, Catholic sexual morality, compulsory priestly celibacy and women’s ministry.

The urgency of reform had already been on display last month when official figures released by the German Bishops’ Conference revealed that 272,771 people left the Catholic Church in 2019, an increase of 26% on the 216,078 people who did so in 2018.

Novena’s full coverage of the Church in Germany:

Layman takes joint charge of Münster parish as auxiliary bishop admits “there are simply not enough priests”

German lay committee head insists “positive attitude”, “good mood” still reigning in ‘synodal path’ reform process

Cardinal Marx laments some Catholics find it “strange” that “the Church has to learn from history”

Renowned German Benedictine and Pope ‘guru’ claims “there are no theological reasons against the priesthood of women”

German bishop blames mass Church desertions on tired old parish-centred pastoral model

Pope encourages German Church to make “good progress” in synodal path reform process

German Bishops pledge “courageous changes” to stem hemorrhage of faithful


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