German Theologians – Citing Ratzinger et al. – Call for Married Priests


Helmut Hoping, professor of dogmatic theology in Freiburg, and Fr. Philipp Müller, pastoral theology professor from Mainz, have called for loosening the requirement of celibacy for priests, in view of the priesthood shortage in Germany. In the March issue of Herder Korresponendenz, they advocate ordaining “viri probati,” well-proven candidates, from among married permanent deacons, reports.

The theologians emphasize that there is “no doubt that the Catholic Church has the freedom to do this, when it seems advisable for pastoral reasons.”

They cite a proposal to the German bishops’ conference advanced in 1970 to ordain married men alongside celibate men. Among those behind that proposal were now-cardinals Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann, and theologian Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI).

Hoping and Müller call for the bishops’ conference to make concrete proposals to Pope Francis. They note that it would be possible for two or three bishops, with the permission of Rome, to move forward and ordain married deacons.

It is worth noting that Hoping is a supporter of the pre-Vatican II 1962 Missal, and has spoken (in NPM’s Pastoral Music, for example) for a literal translation of pro multis, “for you and for many.” Hoping is himself a married deacon.


  1. Many believe It is scandalous that the leaders of our church have chosen to close and consolidate parishes rather than revise the policy that restricts ordination to men willing to be celibate. The deafening silence on this crucial issue from bishops’ conferences is mystifying. Thriving Eucharistic communities depend on individuals willing and able to provide effective leadership whether celibate or married. Let’s all stand with the wisdom and insight of German theologians including the one who became Pope Benedict.

    1. @Jack Feehily:
      The implication is that it is better to have no Eucharist than married priests.
      It is difficult to square that with “Feed my sheep.”

  2. The Germans already have gone completely off the rails with AL. I no longer trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding them.

    1. @Elaine Steffek:
      But how could any of us know the mind of God, or the direction in which the Holy Spirit is leading us? I think an issue here, Elaine, is that it requires an understanding of a national characteristic to understand the response of peoples of differing cultures. We are ‘land-locked’ here in the States and don’t appreciated how the German, the Dutch, the Belgian or the French perceive things. I think a great role model for the Germans was Jesus who, using your words, went completely off the rails as eyed by the Jewish authorities.

  3. A conscientious enforcement of priestly celibacy is a relatively late innovation. The standardization of parish seminary education under Trent allowed Rome to make sure that its candidates for ordination were celibate. Before this, priestly training was often by apprenticeship (as is still the case in places such as China, where the Roman church is suppressed). Before Tridentine standardization, it was usual for a parish priest to have a common-law spouse and children. This was very common in England, but also very common in Germany (Luther presumed that a non-celibate parish priesthood was the norm!) Communities very often accepted a priest’s spouse and children as a defacto family.

    The enforcement of celibacy has a short history in the Roman church. For this reason I find the call for optional celibacy to be entirely harmonious with historical development and the will of most of the faithful. Usually the hold-outs are those who are ignorant of history.

  4. In the 1980s, the Dutch advocated the opposite! Dominican Jan Nieuwenhuis, from the Amsterdam Dominicuskerk and acknowledged spokesperson for the Dutch Dominicans, advocated that on a weekly basis the assemblies of local communities should nominate one of their own as the ‘principle celebrant’ of the day, without any need of buying into Rome’s hierarchical structures. Whereas the Dominicans in Rome ‘had reservations’ about this concept, the Dutch didn’t give a hoot about what Rome felt! Resenting the perceived arrogance of Rome, the Dutch have always been self-willed and regard themselves as ‘zelfgebredenmensen’, which we could approximate with ‘self-knit people’. Their theology is sound insofar as they are subscribing to the priestly character of the baptized. The issue of ‘ordained ministry’ for many has become a clouded issue. But overall, they do not equate discipleship of Jesus with compliance to Roman Law and Order. I just love ’em!

  5. In my diocese, a few years ago, a smallish suburban parish was closed because the archbishop said he had no priest to replace their retiring pastor. A meeting was called and the members were exhorted to attend Mass at one of three neighboring parishes. They tried to insist that they were a community of faith in their own right and many resisted just transferring. Some of them chose to stay within their local area and joined the baptist or the Methodist churches. I can hear people questioning their understanding of Eucharist. They appear to experience Christ as truly present in these other communities. Do parishes exist to provide priests with financial support so that keeping or closing them is primarily an economic consideration? Can anyone tell me why celibate priests whose burdens increase because there are fewer of them would not welcome with joy the ministry of married men?

  6. Tony Barr : Their theology is sound insofar as they are subscribing to the priestly character of the baptized.

    And flawed insofar as they make no distinction between the priestly character of the baptized and the ministerial priesthood. This begs the question, of course, of the acceptance of a Catholic theology of the sacraments (e.g. that Holy Orders is among them).

  7. “It is worth noting that Hoping is a supporter of the pre-Vatican II 1962 Missal, and has spoken (in NPM’s Pastoral Music, for example) for a literal translation of pro multis, “for you and for many.” Hoping is himself a married deacon.”

    Hold up- why is this “worth noting”? How does this have any relevance to the topic of priestly celibacy?

    1. @John Monaco:
      It’s relevant, in my judgment, because it cuts across usual left/right boundaries. I believe our readers will find it interesting that someone promoting this supposedly “left” cause also is so-called “right” on some liturgical questions.

  8. I’m not surprised to “learn” here that there were married priests and bishops in the Church for at least as long as a part of said Church has prohibited them, with notable exceptions of course…..

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