German cardinal says Catholic priests should be allowed to marry: 'It would be better for their life'

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany arrives for a meeting in the Synod Hall at the Vatican March 8, 2013 | (Photo: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)

A prominent Roman Catholic Church leader in Germany has said that he believes priests should be allowed to get married, opposing centuries of mandated celibacy for clergy.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and a reformist ally of Pope Francis, told the German publication Sueddeutsche Zeitung that he supported clerical marriage as part of reforms to battle sex abuse.

“For some priests, it would be better if they were married — not just for sexual reasons, but because it would be better for their life and they wouldn’t be lonely,” stated Marx, as reported by The Associated Press. “We must hold this discussion.”

While Marx stressed he is not totally opposed to celibacy, he said he believed that “it would be better for everyone to create the possibility of celibate and married priests." He questioned “whether it should be taken as a basic precondition for every priest.”

Last month, the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl produced a 1,000-page report finding nearly 500 victims of abuse by church figures in the Munich archdiocese from 1945 to 2019.

The report garnered major attention in part because Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, served as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982.

A point of outrage, according to the Catholic News Agency, was that Ratzinger was present for a meeting that sought to transfer a priest with several allegations of abuse to his diocese. The emeritus pope issued a "heartfelt request for forgiveness" in a statement issued through the Vatican this week but denied wrongdoing. 

German Bishop Stefan Oster defended Ratzinger, arguing that the meeting involved referring the priest to the diocese to receive mental treatment and that Ratzinger had “entrusted himself to collaborators who committed a capital error on a decisive point.”

“We were and are all too much a part of a system — and so was Archbishop Ratzinger at the time,” explained Oster, as quoted by CNA.

“And in this system, for too long, there was indeed almost no interest in the concrete fate of people affected by abuse and hardly any knowledge of their stories.”

Although the Roman Catholic Church has mandated celibacy for its priests since the Medieval Era, in rare circumstances it provides exemptions. For example, married clergy from the Episcopal Church can be ordained in the Catholic Church and maintain their marital union.

In 2019, the Vatican gave serious consideration to allowing older, married men to become priests in remote areas like the Amazon region in South America in response to a clergy shortage.

However, in the February 2020 papal exhortation “Querida Amazonia,” which was centered on matters of the Amazon region, Pope Francis did not directly address the issue.

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