MUNICH (ChurchMilitant.com) - The head of the German Bishops' Conference is ramping up the push for married clergy.
In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung last week, Cdl. Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising suggested that a married priesthood — forecast to be a key topic of debate at the upcoming Amazon Synod — is the answer to Church decline in certain regions of the world.
When pressed for a solution to the priest shortage in the South American interior, Marx replied: "I can easily imagine that one can come to the conclusion that it makes sense, under certain conditions, to allow married priests in certain regions."
Turning to the torpid state of the Church in his own country, the cardinal again asserted that the collapse of German Catholicism can be solved not by returning to orthodoxy, but by relaxing clerical celibacy.
Marx linked empty German pews to the country's clerical sex abuse crisis, noting, "When people revolt about Church scandals, we immediately see that in numbers."
"In my childhood, it would have been unthinkable for a person to leave the Church," he said. "But we do not want to go back to earlier times, into closed milieus and societies; we have to go forward, take on the current situation and gain new credibility."
"It's not about celibacy alone," Marx continued, "but about the future of the priestly way of life."
The important issue, he suggested, is "whether and how celibacy can be lived in such a way that it is a positive sign and does not damage priests in their lives."
But the cardinal insisted there will be "no special German way."
Led by Cdl. Marx, the assembly will be made up of 200 members, with laity outnumbering bishops. Marx's interview comes in the aftermath of last week's announcement that Germany's bishops intend to proceed with a binding "Synodal Assembly" to re-examine Church teaching on fundamental issues of morality and discipline.
According to the assembly's draft statutes, the "Synodal Way of the Catholic Church in Germany" aims to "address and clarify key issues such as: 'authority and separation of powers,' 'sexual morality,' 'the priestly mode of life,' 'women at the service of ecclesiastical offices' over a two-year period."
News of the Synodal Assembly has much of the Catholic world on edge, with many warning it could trigger schism within the German Church.
They note that laity will be represented by the dissident "Central Committee of German Catholics" (ZdK) — a radical leftist group campaigning for women's ordination and an "updating" of Catholic teaching on human sexuality.
In the wake of the country's clerical sex abuse crisis, ZdK leaders insist that the predator priest phenomenon will be solved only when "ecclesiastical tabooing and pathologizing" of homosexuality is ended.
Marx's weekend interview is unlikely to assuage worries of schism within the German Church. When asked to comment on the role of women in the Church, the cardinal replied: "It would change a lot if the men's world is broken up."