NEWS:  February 15, 2011

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

CLERGY CELIBACY: BOILING WATER IN GERMANY - On February 4, 2011, Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and radio Deutsche Welle reported the news that 144 Catholic theologians had issued a public petition for changes in the Church. The document is titled Church 2011: A Necessary New Start, and addresses hot topics such as ending compulsory celibacy and allowing married priests and woman priests.

Judith Könemann, a theology professor in Munich and one of the signers, gave an interview to the German periodical about this document. Speaking on behalf of the eight professors who wrote the petition, she said it was inspired by a desire to help recover from the catastrophic consequences of the pedophilia crisis that shook Germany last year. This scandal sunk the Church’s credibility to a new low, alienating many of the faithful. To remain silent after that crisis, Könemann considers, would only serve to lead the Church to her grave.

Suddeutsche petition to end celibacy

Front page item: 144 theologians petition for end to priestly celibacy
The theologians launched their petition expecting to gather about 50 signatures. They were surprised when the number reached 144, representing more than one third of the 400 German-speaking Catholic theologians at universities and seminaries in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

This proposed new start, however, is wide open to discussion, to say the least. Here are the main suggestions of the document:
  • The already extremely lax progressivist morality preached by the present-day Bishops in the German-speaking countries is, notwithstanding, considered as “rigorist morals” that must be abandoned;

  • The over-valorization of matrimony and celibacy as the only legitimate lifestyles should end to allow the inclusion in the Church of same-sex couples “who live their love” and divorced persons who remarried;

  • To resolve the priest shortage, the Church should do away with obligatory celibacy for priests, and open her doors to married priests and woman priests;

  • To increase lay participation in the Church, the faithful should have more say in the election of the Bishops and a more democratic process be introduced at all levels of the Church.
One sees that these eight theologians who drafted the petition, followed by their fellow signers, effectively adopted the full agenda of Progressivism, defended by radical movements like We Are Church.

The last great “push” coming from the Catholic intelligentsia clamoring for changes in the Church was in 1989 when 220 theologians signed the Cologne Declaration, which called for essentially the same reforms.

Position of the German Bishops

The secretary of the German Conference of Catholic Bishops, Peter Hans Langendorfer, considered the new petition by 144 theologians as a positive sign. The topics raised by the theologians, he noted, are matters often discussed after the priestly pedophilia scandals that came to light last year.

He affirmed that the initiative constituted a first step for an open dialogue, although some points “are in tension” with the prevailing theological views. But he admitted that the different subjects need urgent clarification.

He also announced that the Bishops will take an official position on the proposal at their next meeting (EFE agency, February 4, 2011).

Ratzinger-Rahner’s old demands

In this confrontational atmosphere, another curious document was unburied providing more food for thought. It is a letter dated February 9, 1970 addressed to the German Conferences of Catholic Bishops that was recently published by Pipeline magazine, an organ of the Regensburg Circle of Action (AKR), and referred to by Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Young Ratzinger

A 1970 letter shows Ratzinger's active support to end priestly celibacy
The letter – already in 1970 – asked for the end of priestly celibacy and was signed, among others, by Fathers Joseph Ratzinger, Karl Rahner, Walter Kasper and Karl Lehman.

A draft of that letter was exhumed from the archives of late theologian Karl Rahner. That never-published letter reads: “Our reflections lead to the need for an urgent revision of and a different approach regarding the rule of celibacy in the German Church and the Universal Church.”

Ratzinger and his friends expressed their concern that maintaining priestly celibacy would only decrease the number of candidates to the priesthood and the quality of those to enter it. If the Bishops refused to face the question, the signers threatened, they would lose their authority and cause a mass desertion in the priestly ranks.

Actually, this evaluation could not be more erroneous. In effect, to cure the disease, they propose to administer more of the same virus that caused it. The desertion en masse from the ranks of the secular and religious clergy started because of the Council and was caused by its adaptation to the modern world, and not because of the rule of celibacy.

This Rahner, Ratzinger & Co. solution reminds me of an episode from Roman History: When Agrippina, the perfidious wife of the decadent Emperor Claudius, planned his death so that her corrupt son Nero could ascend to the throne, she plotted with her physician to give Claudius poisoned food. They succeeded in their scheme. Claudius swallowed all they had prepared for him and came close to dying, but then began to show signs of recovery.

The shrewd Agrippina and her accomplice had another course of action prepared and at hand. The medicinal practice of the time dictated that at the first signs of poisoning, the victim’s mouth should be opened and his throat tickled with a feather to make him expel all he had eaten. Hence, the Empress and her collaborator had a feather loaded with a stronger dose of poison, which was duly pushed down into Claudius’s throat as if they were administering the prescribed remedy... Everyone present thought they were trying to save the Emperor. This is how Claudius died and her beloved Nero became Emperor.

Agrippina and her son Nero

Agrippina's "remedy" won the crown for her son Nero
To propose the end of celibacy in order to stop the hemorrhage in the priestly ranks caused by the laxity introduced by Vatican II is to repeat Agrippina’s “medication.” It is to administer more of the same poison to complete the work of killing the patient.

I agree with that ancient Roman cure: Today the real remedy for the Church is to make her expel every bit of the poisoned food Progressivism has served her. Then the Catholic Church can recover her health as she was before Vatican II and move to a real new start toward the Reign of Mary.

At any rate it is useful to know what Fr. Ratzinger, today’s Pope, was demanding in 1970. Now he, who stated several times he did not change, has all the necessary power to fulfill that agenda.

Was this new document signed by 144 theologians drafted as part of a plan to give Benedict XVI a pretext to end celibacy in the clergy? Who can exclude this possibility? Let us wait, watch and see, keeping in mind that later this year he has a trip planned to Germany.

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