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Pope adviser urges celibacy rethink

October 6, 2018

The head of Germany's Catholic Church has called for a debate on the celibacy requirement for priests, in response to the clergy sex abuse scandals. Cardinal Reinhard Marx said "weak excuses" were no longer acceptable.

Two priests clasp their hands
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Haid

Cardinal Reinhard Marx has called for a "frank discussion" within the Roman Catholic Church on homosexuality, abuse of authority and the "celibacy and the training of priests" as part of the response to clergy sex abuse scandals.

"If no corrective action is taken by the church — and we are working on it, we must work on it — the state has no other choice but to intervene," Marx said on Friday, referring to ongoing investigations of church leaders in places like Chile, the United States and elsewhere.

Read more: Opinion: When it comes to abuse by priests, a crime is a crime

Marx, one of Pope Francis' nine cardinal advisers, made his remarks at the launch of a master's course on safeguarding of minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where Jesuit recruits are educated.

That opening came as the Vatican convened more than 250 bishops to discuss how to better minister to young people.

Church report details abuse

Worldwide scandals

A string of sex abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church has been exposed around the world in recent years, including in Germany. 

Last month. a church-commissioned report detailed that at least 1,670 Catholic clerics had abused more than 3,600 children and teenagers, mostly male, in German dioceses between 1946 and 2014.

"Words of concern are not sufficient; we must act," Marx said, before adding that the causes were more complex than just priesthood without marriage. "Celibacy is not the cause of abuse; that is absolutely not the case."

However, Marx added that the church, when recruiting, should ask itself whether weaknesses such as hidden homosexuality, combined with celibacy, could lead to future problems.

Only one-third celibate: former monk

Anselm Bilgri, who until 2004 was a Benedictine monk in Germany, said in an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit that "there are estimates that one-third of priests are heterosexually active, one-third homosexually, and one-third who sincerely attempt to comply [by observing celibacy]."

Bilgri, the author of a book published last month in which he calls for the end of celibacy in the priesthood, said belief in the practice was no longer shared by many people, resulting in many priests living out their sexual urges in secret.

A 2015 study by Munich-based theologian and psychiatrist Eckhard Frick found that among 4,200 priests and 8,600 pastoral workers, only one in two would decide for a celibate life if they could choose again.

ipj/cmk (KNA, AP, dpa, AFP, epd)