Cardinal blames celibacy rule for abuse scandals
Published 12/03/2010 | 05:00
A senior cardinal has called for priestly celibacy to be re-examined in the light of sex scandals sweeping the Roman Catholic Church.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, conservative Archbishop of Vienna and a protege of the Pope, shocked the Vatican by suggesting that it should carry out an "unflinching examination" of causes of the scandal.
These included "the issue of priests' training", he wrote in his archdiocese magazine, "the question of priest celibacy and the question of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the church and of society as a whole".
The Vatican said the remarks had been misinterpreted. "Priestly celibacy is a gift of the Holy Spirit," Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, said at a theological convention on priestly fidelity.
Cardinal Schonborn's spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, issued a clarification later claiming that the cardinal was not "in any way seeking to question the Catholic Church's celibacy rule". Sources in Rome said he had been obliged to issue his "clarification" under pressure from the Holy See.
His remarks came days after Father Hans Kung, the dissident Catholic theologian, blamed the church's "uptight" views on sex for child abuse scandals in Germany, Ireland and the US.
Despite calls for priestly celibacy to be abolished or made optional, it has been repeatedly reaffirmed as untouchable by successive popes, including Pope Benedict XVI.
It may be raised, however, at a two-day conference, which began yesterday, at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome to mark the 'Year of the Priest'. The Lateran conference is being organised by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian head of the Congregation for the Clergy, who once observed that celibacy was "not dogma".
The celibacy rule was not part of the early Christian Church but was introduced in the Middle Ages. A number of early Christian fathers were married, including St Peter himself, according to St Mark's Gospel.
Today Pope Benedict is to meet Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg and head of the German bishops' conference, to discuss the growing crisis over clerical sex abuse in several countries, including the Pope's native Germany.
Archbishop Zollitsch has described clerical abuse as outrageous but has denied any link between sex abuse and celibacy.
In his article, Cardinal Schonborn said that he could understand the frustration of many of the faithful over the paedophilia scandals. "Enough is enough. That's what many people are saying and thinking," he wrote.
A number of sex abuse scandals involving priests have come to light in Austria recently, one involving a man of 53 who says he was abused for six years from the age of 11 by two priests.
Pope Benedict is due to issue a pastoral letter to the faithful here on the sex abuse issue after meeting Irish bishops in Rome last month.
The scandal has come closer to the pontiff himself after it emerged that a former chorister in Regensburg had claimed he was abused while a member of the Cathedral choir, which was led for three decades by Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's older brother.
This week, Father Kung, who was stripped of his licence to teach Catholic theology in 1979 after he rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility, said in 'The Tablet' that denials of any link between abuse and celibacy were "erroneous".
He said celibacy was not the only cause of the misconduct but described it as "the most important and structurally the most decisive" expression of the Church's repressive attitude to sex. (© The Times, London)