BY ANNA ARCO
POPE BENEDICT XVI called for an investigation into the discipline of priestly celibacy when he was a young man, it emerged last week.
Joseph Ratzinger was one of a number of theologians who prepared a memorandum for the German bishops in 1970 which called for an indepth look at priestly celibacy.
The memorandum, according to the Sueddeutsche newspaper, was drawn up in the face of a shortage of priests and other signatories included Karl Rahner and the future cardinals Karl Lehmann and Walter Kasper.
The letter, which was sent to the German bishops, reads: “Our considerations regard the necessity of a serious investigation and a differentiated inspection of the law of celibacy of the Latin Church for Germany and the whole of the universal Church.” The document said if there was no such investigation, the bishops’ conference would “awaken the impression that it did not believe in the strength of the Gospel recommenda tion of a celibate life for the sake of heaven, but rather only in the power of a formal authority”.
If there weren’t enough priests, the document said, then the “Church quite simply has a responsibility to take up certain modifications”.
The signatories who had drawn up the document acted as consultors to the German bishops’ conference as a commission on faith and morals. The letter made it clear that the theologians were not opposed to priestly celibacy. The celibate priesthood must continue existing as “real and true possibility”, it said.
Pope Benedict has consistently defended the discipline of priestly celibacy. Speaking to priests this year, Pope Benedict said: “Celibacy is simply an anticipation, a foretaste, made possible by the grace of the Lord, that pulls us towards the risen world and helps us transcend ourselves.” He also said that celibacy was a way of “saying that final yes” and that it “confirms the yes of marriage”.
The document was released by a Regensburg-based newspaper which is critical of the Church. It comes against the backdrop of wider debate over priestly celibacy in Germany.
Two weeks ago eight prominent Catholic members of the country’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) called for a change in the Latin Church’s insistence on priestly celibacy.
The group of politicians included three former ministers, the German education minister, and the state secretary for families as well as the president of the German parliament. They said that they believed it “urgently necessary to ask the German bishops in the light of the worrying growth of the priest shortage to consider taking up the case for viri probati in the priesthood” and to campaign in Rome and in the world for the case.
A statement issued by the German bishops’s conference said: “The proposal is of importance to the global Church and therefore requires appropriate formation of opinion and decision on a Churchwide level. Celibacy is of high value. It has been the repeated subject of the Synod of Bish ops in Rome. In the coming years, retrospectives on the consultation of the Council 50 years ago and the common synods of the dioceses 40 years ago will offer opportunities to consider afresh the concerns outlined in the letter and other proposals for inspiring more vocations to the priesthood afresh. In the light of this, this concern of the politicians is not designated for conversations immediately as preparation to the Holy Father’s visit.” Meanwhile Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg told Vatican Radio last week that he was open to a debate on the admission of viri probati to the priesthood. He said it was important to discuss the topic. Although the German bishops are not necessarily keen to be discussing the topic, Archbishop Thissen said “why should we not speak about celibacy? I think it is important that the subject is spoken about”.
He said celibacy was a “characteristic of Catholic identity which has grown over the centuries and it is good to justify this Catholic identity and speak about it”.