Key German Church figures are continuing to push for an end to compulsory celibacy, saying “the old days are well and truly over”.

Driving the news

In a radio interview December 20, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said that although the discipline of priestly celibacy has proved itself over the centuries, and has produced a lot of good and faithful priests, the Church and the world have moved on.

“The old days are well and truly over”, Overbeck insisted, explaining that the credibility of priests today is no longer taken for granted from their celibate lifestyle, but instead earned through their entire personality.

Moreover, Overbeck warned, in a decade there will hardly be any celibate priests left, if the vocations decline continues as it has been going.

For that reason, the bishop pleaded with Church authorities for alternatives to the discipline of compulsory priestly celibacy so that the Church can go on.

Also warning about the coming lack of priests was Thomas Sternberg, the President of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics, who wondered how Masses are to be celebrated with the predicted dearth of celibate, consecrated men.

Go deeper

Exactly what alternatives to celibacy could look like was suggested by Heiner Wilmer, the Bishop of Hildesheim.

Wilmer told the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung December 20 that he could imagine in the Church of the future “other forms of [priestly] life that we already have today, for example with married Protestant pastors who convert to the Catholic Church”.

Celibacy, too, “could develop more radiant power if certain groups of people were exempted from it”, added Wilmer, in any case warning that further discussions on the issue are necessary.

Why it matters

On other questions, Bishop Overbeck again defended on the radio the German Church’s ‘synodal path’, insisting that the path discussions on possible reforms to Catholic sexual morality, celibacy, priestly power and the role of women in the Church have been made necessary by the clerical abuse scandal.

The prevalence of sexual abuse in the Church revealed that current ecclesiastical structures contributed to crime and cover-up, argued Overbeck, explaining that reform of those structures is not about assigning blame especially to bishops and priests, but rather about collective conversion.

Also lending renewed support to the synodal path was Bishop Wilmer, who argued that the German reform push is necessary given that “in history, believers in individual countries have repeatedly given impulses for the entire Church”.

In any case, doing nothing to remedy the legacy of the abuse crisis is not an option, warned Wilmer.

For the record

For his part, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück told radio station NDR-Kultur December 20 that, with respect to the growing demand for reform, as a Church simply “we have to deal with it”.

Though Bode warned that he considered women in the priesthood a “totally unrealistic” prospect in his lifetime, he added that demand for women’s ordination will only grow as more females come into other types of leadership in the Church.

And that’s not just in Germany, the Bishop of Osnabrück warned.

In many other countries around the world there’s growing momentum to revise the role of women in the Church, as there is to revise sexual morality, priestly power and celibacy – precisely the topics of the synodal path, Bode said.

Next on Novena:

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

New Austrian bishop sees “many reasons” for abolition of compulsory priestly celibacy

Bishops, laity hail German ‘synodal path’ as “last chance” to fix “broken” Church