Ratzinger reportedly asked for "serious investigation" into priestly celibacy

I’m sure this is raising a few eyebrows around the world:

As a young priest, Pope Benedict put his name to a document calling for the Church to seriously investigate the obligation to priestly celibacy.

Joseph Ratzinger was one of the signatories of a 1970 document calling for an examination of priestly celibacy which was signed by nine theologians.

The memorandum 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 German newspaper Die Sueddeutsche reported about the document today.

The memorandum, 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.”

According to the Sueddeutsche, the document said if there were no such investigation, the bishops’ conference would “awaken the impression that it did not believe in the strength of the Gospel recommendation of a celibate life for the sake of heaven, but rather only in the power of a formal authority”.

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13 responses to “Ratzinger reportedly asked for "serious investigation" into priestly celibacy”

  1. Joseph Ratzinger, now our Holy Father, is a brilliant man. If we were to trouble ourselves to examine all of the things that he has said and written over the years, many would be surprised.

    That is why I almost never am. No – I haven’t read it all, but I think that he is often, with the best intentions, misunderstood.

    He is brilliant and he has the heart of a theologian and intellectual. As such he understands, well certainly understood, that examination is always welcome and necessary.

    Sadly we are at a time in our Church and perhaps in our country and the world, where examination stands for something negative. The truth and the Truth will always hold up to examination. Examination does not mean doubt – not that there is anything wrong with doubt, but I don’t want to go off on another tangent.

    Examination is required always for continued and further illumination and revelation. It should not in general be feared.

    Sadly it often is – and maligned. Very sadly so.

  2. Cool, once more this shows that our current pope is not a celibacy dogmatist (by that I mean open to no discussion on something that is not dogma). In the linked article people were getting all worked up about this and how disappointed they are in Pope Benedict. In the end all it shows is that he is a theologian who was and is open to discussion and investigation of ideas that for the church can be controversial. A true professorial/academic soul. What is not to love about that?

  3. Drop way back in time. During Vatican II, Father Josef Ratzinger was a very liberal theologian on the “Catholic Faculty” at the University of Tubingen where a faculty colleague — and good friend — of his was Fr. Hans Kung.

    During the council, Ratzinger was active in everything the council did. He was consulted by all of the European Council Fathers but primarily by the German episcopacy. Every document at Vatican II has his stamp on it somehow and somewhere. Vatican II was “Papa-Ratzi”s” council from day one.

    After he was appointed to the “Holy Office” by John Paul II, many outsiders — noting his stubborn streak — asked each other what caused him to change his theological perspective. Some observers suggested the shootout at the Munich Olympics was the cause while others noted that he really had not changed personally so much as his office had.

    That was why I was not at all upset when he was elected pope and why I am absolutely not surprised at some of the rather startling positions he has taken. They may be innovative to many out in the pews but they have been his own positions for a long time. He now is in a position to bring to completion what he started almost fifty years ago.

  4. Sorry, I take it that Ratzinger was just trying to look for a better reason to justify celibacy than formal authority. The document appears to be doing just that, according to what your blog says. He was just as conservative as the man we know today.

  5. @Linda. I read it the same way. Fr Ratzinger was interested in citing the Theological pinnings of the practice of celibacy, rather than “the power of formal authority.”

  6. Deacon Norb:

    Since I read everthing I can get my hands on about Vatican II, I am very interested in your comment:

    “Vatican II was “Papa-Ratzi”s” council from day one.”

    Will you give me more information (sources, etc.)?

    (I have a personal interest. My uncle attended all four sessions and gave an intervention on the rights of auxiliary bishops in episcopal conferences. Apparently, at that time, they were not given voting privileges. At the daily press conference of the American bishops, he was asked how he dared to speak on the subject, since he was an auxiliary himself, he replied: “I understand that my salary has already been cut.”)

    I know that Ratzinger, along with Rahner, was promoting the married diaconate. I read that, at one of the sessions, Ottaviani singled them out, not by name, and criticized them, rather severely, for soliciting support from various groups for the resumption of the married diaconate.

  7. If I understand correctly, a marriage was allowed for priests in the very early church. Why was that changed?

  8. I read it the same way as Linda. And my impression is that at this point there is not much papal interest in examination of any kind.

  9. HMS

    I have no problem about carrying on this conversation “off-blog.” Send me your e-mail address via Deacon Greg’s e-mail account (on this blog somewhere) and ask him to forward it to me. He and I swap e-mails several times a week.

    In the interim, these are the sources I use when I am teaching about the Council:

    –A several part video-tape series entitled “The Faithful Revolution” which interviewed a lot of V II participants.

    –Xavier Rhynne’s four part series: Letters from Vatican II; The Second Session; The Third Session; The Forth Session. Or also try his one revision/edition entitled Vatican Council II.

    –Melissa J. Wilde; Vatican II; A Sociological study of Religious Change.

    Two others — far more detailed — I know about but have not yet consulted heavily:

    –Austin Flannery OP: Vatican II (multi volumes in print)

    –Bill Heubsch: Vatican II in Plain English.

    But then, Deacon Bill — who sometimes posts on this blog — has studied V II far more than I have.

  10. pagansister,

    The Church has never allowed priests to marry. However, the early practice of the Church allowed for married men to be ordained.

    But I think the important thing to remember is that the Church has always trended toward celibacy. We see it in Paul’s writings. By the turn of the 4th c., celibacy, though not universal, was fairly well established for clergy. While it is true that we see a married clergy persisting until the 11th c., much of it was contrary to Church law.

    It is also worth noting that often when we see a married clergy in the early Church, we are talking about something much different. Very often these were married men who were required to put their wives aside or live as brother and sister. We aren’t talking married clergy like in the Protestant denominations or the Eastern Churches.

  11. wineinthewater:
    Thanks for your response. Another question, if I may. I know that this has been discussed more than often, but now that some Anglican and Episcopal priests, many married, are joining the RCC, obviously becoming married priests, how can the RCC continue to require those RC men studying for the priesthood to remain unmarried? IMO, if married men can perform their duties (which the married Anglican.Episcopal priests will be doing) why can’t those newly minted men marry if they choose? It seems a double standard.

  12. What the signatories to the letter, including Ratzinger, were agreed on was that the discipline of celibacy should be subjected to a genuine review, in which the possibility of discerning the appropriateness of a change in discipline was not excluded from the outset. It may well be that he expected the result of a earnest examination to be a confirmation of the Church’s current practice, but he did not consider that as beyond doubt.

    I’ve translated the whole letter at:

  13. It seems to me that we need good role model families where husbands no how to treat their wives and vice versa. The children produced from that love would spread. I dont understand why they deprive themselves of something that Jesus had. He had a wife. Times are sad, too many people judge and ridicule each other. Too many bitter marriages where there are unhappy parents. Seems to me that when you deprive yourself of something that God gave you the ability to do, you allow things like temptation..and that is someone knocking on your backdoor you dont want and children get hurt in the process. It is not a matter of them questioning their faith, I think they would be spreading it. We need to bring back the sanctity of marriage and what it means to be a parent. Girls are giving themselves away now at 10 and 11. So sad. If we had more model examples of marriages and children raised with Gods faith and love, I think we would benefit as a society from that. I could see husband and wife teams working with areas that are in need and I think more people would jump on the bandwagon of a humble life. Everything is “i” touch nowadays.

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