MUNICH (ChurchMilitant.com) - The president of the German bishops' conference is saying that Germany received only one new seminarian in 2016.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich-Freising, told the diocese's plenary council on March 18 that "only one candidate for the priesthood had come forward in the Munich archdiocese this year."
The member of the Pope's Council of Nine — his advisory council of cardinals — said because of the shortage of priests, he was proposing to ordain married men and have lay-run parishes in his archdiocese rather than combine parishes.
The 63-year-old cardinal spoke to the 180 members of Munich's diocesan council on the importance of preserving individual parishes. He proposed a pilot project for the fall, saying "full-time and voluntary lay personnel would take over parishes."
With so few vocations to the priesthood, he also proposed that current requirements pertaining to the admission of men to the priesthood be revisited. This includes the possibility of ordaining married men of viri probati — a Latin term for men of proven virtue.
Pope Francis had discussed this option with a German newspaper earlier this month. "We have to give a thought to whether viri probati [men of proven virtue] are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in isolated areas," said the Holy Father.
The Roman Pontiff quickly clarified that priestly celibacy was a virtue that frees men to fully serve God and that discarding it wouldn't fix the priest shortage: "Voluntary celibacy is often discussed in this context, especially in places where there are shortages of clerics. But voluntary celibacy is not a solution," the Pope said.
Cardinal Marx confirmed that Pope Francis wasn't referring to places like Germany when he spoke of ordaining married men but rather remote areas like the "rain forest of Brazil where Catholics could at best receive the Eucharist once a year."
The Catholic Code of Canon Law doesn't allow married men to become priests without a special dispensation. The code explains that celibacy is a gift that allows a priest to give himself totally over to the service of God and neighbor.
Canon 277 describes celibacy as "a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity."
The cardinal, however, said his proposal was a reaction to the priest shortage, which included the fact that "not all priests are in a position to lead parishes." He also admitted that when he first became archbishop of Munich, he would have rejected any such proposal that included lay administrators of parishes and married clergy.