World Controversy over celibacy: Why shouldn't priests be married?

Controversy over celibacy: Why shouldn't priests be married?


A new book is causing a stir in the Vatican: It is called "From the depths of our hearts" and was written by a cardinal from Guinea. There is a dispute as to whether and to what extent the former German Pope Benedict XVI. should be involved in it.

At its core, the question is whether Catholic priests should continue to do without sex, marriage and starting a family without exception. It is particularly piquant because it appeared BEFORE a statement by the incumbent Pope Francis, who is due to comment on celibacy shortly.

What does celibacy mean?

The word celibacy goes back to the Latin "caelebs", which means "conjugal". Those who live celibately have no sex, do not marry and do not start a family. Celibacy is the prerequisite for ordination in the Catholic Church.

How long has celibacy been around?

The rules for priestly abstinence go back to the Elvira Synod, which probably took place around 300 near Grenada in Spain. At that time priests were officially imposed on abstinence for the first time. At the second Lateran Council (1139), Pope Innocent II officially declared existing marriages of clergy invalid.

Two other councils reaffirmed this decision: the Council of Trento (between 1545 and 1563) and the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s underscored celibacy as a prerequisite for the priesthood. In 1917, celibacy was documented in black and white when the internationally binding, modern canon law, the Codex Iuris Canonici, was drafted.

The rules of celibacy have been laid down several times, but over the centuries most of the priests have not followed them. This is borne out by the guidelines published by the Vatican for dealing with priestly children. Pope Innocent VIII (15th century) is said to have 16 descendants.

Where do the rules of celibacy go from?

It is controversial whether there are clear biblical passages that explicitly define the abstinence of priests. It is generally recognized that Jesus was obviously very strict in choosing his disciples. It says, among other things, in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 14:26): "If someone comes to me and does not pay little attention to father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his life, then he cannot be my disciple . "

In the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 19:12) Jesus said similarly: "Some (people) are incapable of marriage from birth, some are made of it by men and some have made themselves – for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

These two passages are the most important reference points for the traditional rules of celibacy. However, there is no clear statement in the sense of "Marriage is prohibited" in the Bible. Paul, one of Jesus' disciples, had also recognized this and wrote in his Corinthians: "As for the question of celibacy, I have no command from the Lord."

Was Jesus himself abstaining?

The four Gospels provide no information about this. In any case, next to Jesus' parents, hardly any family members are mentioned – especially not a wife or potential children. However, Bible researchers stubbornly maintain the thesis that Maria Magdalena was married to Jesus and possibly had a child with her.

What is the rationale for a celibate life?

Full focus on God. The canon law says: "The clerics are obliged to maintain complete and permanent abstinence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven; therefore they are obliged to celibacy, which is a special gift of God, through which the ministers of the office more easily cling to Christ with undivided hearts and are more free to do so Dedicate to serving God and man. "

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. There are exceptions to celibacy, for example, for priests who convert to Catholicism from Anglican or Protestant churches. They can be ordained a priest even if they are married.

Have there been attempts to change the rules?

Again and again. After the Synod of Elvira and the Second Lateran Council, many priests who were already married and did not want to leave their families rebelled. And even in the centuries that followed, there was always a lot of discussion – but so far without results.

What are the current developments?

Not least in the wake of the abuse cases in the Catholic Church that have been uncovered in recent years, the debate about celibacy has become louder again. It cannot be said whether such crimes could be prevented if the rules of celibacy were abolished.

Both clerics and non-clerics nonetheless discuss whether priests' abstinence is still appropriate. Among other things, it prevents young people from becoming interested in the profession. In some sparsely populated areas of the world, suitable unmarried candidates were simply not available. Another argument often made is that married priests may be able to provide better pastoral support based on past experience. For example, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg recently said: "I believe that it does no harm to the church if priests are free to choose whether they want to live the marriage or want to live without marriage."

Celibacy also played an important role at the so-called Amazon Synod of Bishops held in autumn 2019. Among other things, the decision was made to admit married men to the priesthood in the future if there were no other priestly candidates in remote regions of the world (e.g. the Amazon region). This document on dealing with "viri probati" is not legally binding – it is, however, intended to help the Pope form his own opinion, which he will publish shortly.

What is the situation like in Germany?

In Germany, reforms within the Catholic Church have been discussed particularly intensively for several years. At the beginning of 2019, the German bishops decided at their assembly to take the so-called Synodal Path. They want to initiate reforms on the abuse of power, sexual morality, celibacy and the role of women.

However, the fronts are quite hardened. For example, while Regensburg's Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer is afraid of "any compromises", others like Mainz Bishop Peter Kohlgraf and Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck are demanding a rethink within the church and a willingness to change.

But the believers themselves make themselves strong. The women of the Maria 2.0 movement, among others, attracted particular attention. They are calling for the Catholic Church to become more feminine and to open its ministry to women.

How does Pope Francis feel about celibacy?

Even if there are efforts to shake the rules of celibacy – for Pope Francis the basic principle of celibacy is clear: on Monday he had a spokesman in the dispute over a celibacy book, in which the former Pope Benedict allegedly also participated should have spoken and made a general commitment to celibacy. However, there could be exceptions for Catholic pastors in particularly remote parts of the world, he said through the spokesman.

Swell:,, Codex Iuris Canonici, news agencies AFP and DPA


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