‘Celibacy is not a dogma’: German Catholic Church to examine practices

The German Catholic Church vowed Thursday a thorough look at its practices including the issue of celibacy, in a shakeup of the system following a damning child sex abuse scandal.

'Celibacy is not a dogma': German Catholic Church to examine practices
Pope Francis speaking at the Vatican in 2014. Photo: DPA

In the latest of a series of sex assault scandals to rock the Catholic Church worldwide, the German institution this week published a study showing that at least 3,677 minors were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who heads the German Bishops' Conference, apologized to the thousands of victims and promised to leave no stone unturned in dealing with the problem plaguing the church.

Speaking at the close of a three-day meeting of top clergy in Fulda, Marx stressed that “no topic would be taboo”.

Rather, he promised a broad discussion that would also examine questions on  celibacy and the church's sexual morals.

With allegations battering the Church from the United States to Chile to Australia, voices calling on Pope Francis to abolish celibacy for priests have grown louder.

A five-year inquiry in Australia into the widespread child sex abuse affecting 15,000 people recommended that celibacy among Catholic priests should be voluntary to help curb abuse.

Pope Francis has said that “celibacy is not a dogma”, and that the church may consider ordaining married men to work in areas faced with a shortage of priests.

But the Vatican does not yet seem ready to take the step of ending the practice.

In Germany, the researchers from three universities who carried out the study on the extent of sexual misconduct by priests said the true scale of the abuse was far greater, as many documents had been “destroyed or manipulated”.

They have also warned that “sexual abuse is a persistent problem” in the Catholic Church and presumably ongoing, “not a historical problem”.

Predator priests were often transferred to other parishes that were commonly not warned about their criminal history.

Only about one in three were subject to disciplinary hearings by the Church, and most got away with minimal punishment. Only 38 percent were prosecuted by civil courts.

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Pope rejects German bishop’s offer to quit over abuse scandal

Pope Francis on Thursday rejected an offer by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a top German bishop, to resign over the mishandling of sexual abuse and cover-up scandals.

Pope rejects German bishop's offer to quit over abuse scandal
Marx following a service in Haar, Bavaria on Sunday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

“Continue as you propose (in your pastoral work) but as Archbishop of
Munich and Freising,” the pope wrote to Marx, referring to the position he was offering to vacate.

Marx announced earlier this month that he had offered the pope his
resignation over the church’s “institutional and systemic failure” in handling
child sex abuse scandals.

READ ALSO: German bishop resigns over Catholic Church’s ‘failure’ in abuse scandal

The stunning decision came after the church in Germany, like in many places elsewhere, was shaken by allegations of wide-ranging abuse by clergymen against minors.

In his letter, the pope agreed with Marx in calling the clerical sexual
abuse scandals “a catastrophe” and the way the Catholic Church dealt with them “until recently”.

“The entire Church is in crisis because of the abuse issue” and “the Church
cannot proceed without tackling this crisis. The policy of burying the head in
the sand leads nowhere,” he wrote.

In his original letter to the pope dated May 21st and published on June 4th by his archdiocese, Marx said: “It is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades.”

Investigations and reports had “consistently shown there have been many
personal failures and administrative mistakes but also institutional or
‘systemic’ failure,” added Marx, who was president of the German Bishops’
Conference from 2012 to 2020.

Slamming colleagues who “refuse to believe there is a shared responsibility
in this respect”, he said the Church was at “a dead end”.

Marx — who was never personally accused of abuse or cover up, and who
would have remained a cardinal even if Francis had allowed him to quit as
archbishop — added that he hoped his resignation would offer a new beginning for the Church.

Speaking to journalists, he confirmed the pope had given him permission to
publish the letter and that he would continue in his role until he received a
response to his offer.