Bishop Kohlgraf: Time To Talk about Optional Celibacy

Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, Germany has called for discussion of optional celibacy for priests. The abuse scandal in the Catholic Church shows that “the system is called into question,” said the bishop.

On the question of optional celibacy, Bishop Kohlgraf said, “For myself I would say that that it must not be a taboo topic that one may not discuss.”

The vocation to the priesthood could attract people who, “because of their personality structure, become perpetrators,” he said. “Certain conceptions of the church’s moral teachings” could hinder an open engagement with experiences and questions of human sexuality, he stated in a letter sent to all the parishes in his diocese.

Bishop Kohlgraf was named bishop by Pope Francis in August, 2017. As of last year, the newly-named bishop had stated that no departure from celibacy would be part of the church’s immediate future. “Intentional renunciation of marriage belongs to the charism of the Catholic Church,” he said at the time. The one who wishes to become a Catholic priest must “affirm celibacy as a spiritual way of life.”

Bishop Kohgraf also noted the secular courts are “no help whatsoever” in those many cases where clerical abuse happened before statutes of limitations. He suggested some type of church court for such cases which would enforce uniform standards for all of Germany.


  1. I agree, rethinking of celibacy is the only possible solution to resolve the problem and to restore the reputation of the Church

  2. Without knocking on the kindly bishop, I’m starting to get sick of claims that optional celibacy would help solve the sex abuse scandal, because the evidence just isn’t there. Study after study has found almost no statiscal or psychological links between a lack of sexual activity and depraved sexuality. Fr. Jim Martin did a good article on this last year:

    1. It is correct that there is little evidence of a link between enforced celibacy and sexual abuse. And to imply a connection seems defensive and insulting to those who have been victims of clerical abuse. But, it sounds like Bishop Kohlgraf may be edging towards a view that optional celibacy might open the doors to some more suitable candidates .

      1. The unfortunate corollary to such a change, however, is that every previously ordained priest would be indelibly marked as “from the less suitable”. And ironically the future priests who choose lives of celibacy would be even more suspect of ‘indiscretions’ than they are today.

        And one of the few lessons to be learned from “study after study” is that public opinions are rarely affected by study after study!

      2. It is also insulting to men who have had celibacy imposed on them through widowhood or marital breakdown. Are they to be seen as potential perpetrators?
        What about the married men who abuse children?

  3. All very good comments in this discussion.

    However, in the article Patrick Freese links to, it compares the 4% figure for priests from the bishops’ study to the estimates of experts that for all males it is perhaps 10% or maybe 20% who abuse. These are not comparable figures. The first (for priests) is of reported cases; and the comparable reported cases for all males would be, I presume, rather low. The estimates of 10-20% are professional guesses about the actual abuse committed by all males. You would have to compare that with a professional guess about how many priests have actually abused. To be a fair comparison, you would need reported cases for priests and reported cases for all males – or, estimated rates for priests to compare with estimated rates for all males.

    I don’t believe that celibacy is an intrinsic cause of abuse. I do believe, however, that troubled celibacy is very probably a cause. I think we should all be honest and admit that we’ve had way too much of that in the Catholic priesthood.

    Similarly, I don’t believe that homosexual orientation is a cause of abuse. I do believe, however, that troubled (closeted, unaccepted, etc.) homosexuality very probably has been a cause (at least in the case of ephebophile abuse of adolescent males). We’ve had too much of that. And banning gays doesn’t solve this – it could just make it worse.

    Lots of healing needed – in a systemic, comprehensive way.


    1. Not only well said and based upon facts but also expressed with love and a caring heart. Good job, awr!

  4. I believe the current research shows that in the US the typical child abuser is a married male. Be careful what you wish for!

    1. Thank you fir pointing this out. What you did not mention that the majority are abusing family members. All the shaming and blaming of various minorities such as gay clergy will not help end abuse. Only fact-based decisions will.

      And an optionally married clergy would at least open the door to the majority of married men who are not abusers but who have an understanding of life based upon experience of a truly intimate relationship.

  5. Maybe I’m not understanding what the bishop is proposing.

    Optional celibacy is a fine thing but how is it going to curb involvement of those who are sexually attracted to adolescents and adults who do not want sexual contact with the same sex?

    Clerical marriage will only affect the heterosexual priests (unless the bishop is advocating same sex marriage which he does not appear to be).

    The good bishop seems confused.

  6. I think the basic issue is whether or not celibacy is of the essense of priestly ministry. We know of course, that it is a discipline of the Roman Church. But has making it obligatory for ordination to the priesthood passed it’s usefulness. Any change must be approached with caution, with the understanding that the experience of the Eastern Rites and Protestant Churches may not provide all the answers. It is difficult to escape unintended consequences.
    Still, if the end results in more clergy to offer Eucharist for the people etc. then it may be worth the risks.

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