Germany’s defense minister calls on Church to abolish priestly celibacy and ordain women to the diaconate

The National Catholic Reporter is carrying a story that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a member of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Germany’s current defense minister, called on the Catholic Church to abolish priestly celibacy and ordain women to the diaconate. Her Wikipedia page says that she is a Roman Catholic. She is an important politician in Germany and had been Angela Merkel’s chosen heir and had she not ruled herself out of the running earlier this week, could well have become Germany’s next chancellor. So whatever one might think, she is undeniably an important figure in German politics.

Here I am not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of her proposals. What I find fascinating is that a government minister (for defense no less) would comment in the pubic square on a matter that is surely for the Church to decide. It is true that she is entitled to her personal opinion, but rightly or wrongly a politician of her stature cannot express a public opinion that won’t be understood as coming from her political role (it may even be the case that she stressed that she was simply expressing her personal views (the NCR report doesn’t say). It ought also to be considered that these issues are in the media spotlight in Germany this week due to the Synodal Process there.

The Catholic Church has often been accused of meddling in politics. Maybe there is some case to be answered by certain members of the Church in this regard. However, conversely, is it the place of politicians to recommend major changes to the Catholic Church? Should, for example, Mark Esper, the current U.S. Secretary for Defense, feel free to suggest similar changes to the U.S. Catholic Church?

I know the natural tendency for everyone is to agree that it is a good idea, if we agree with what is being called for, and to be horrified by it if we are not.  But that is not the question I am asking. More simply, what role should secular leaders have in deciding Catholic doctrine and practice? Historically, we can look back at figures such as the Emperor Constantine who influenced Church teaching. But today how should we process these calls, should inputs such as this be given a certain importance  or should the Church state that she deals with internal matters internally?

8 comments

  1. Don’t the various churches in Germany receive funds from the state? If so then it does not surprise me that a state official would presume to express his or her views about ecclesiastical matters. The power of the purse, as it were.

  2. I disagree. She as a catholic has every right to voice her opinions. If not she would be a hypocrite. If all catholics spoke up one one or t hff e other it may be a better choice. I as a catholic and teacher say publicly that women should be ordained married clergy gay rights and our at times hypocritical nature. If the powers that be do not like it they can dismiss me
    A price I will pay for speaking my views.

  3. Anything that smacks of interference (withholding benefits or imposing penalties) is not welcome, but I don’t see that her role in public life puts her in a position of authority over the church in such a way that this would present a danger. She is on her way out, so it’s unlikely that she is pandering to an electoral group. She is a Catholic, so is speaking from inside her own faith community. She is free to express her opinion publicly if she wishes. Take it or leave it.

    In fact, it’s a sign of religious vitality that public figures care to argue for positions within church practice, as though it mattered! Can you imagine this happening in Quebec? The main thing politicians are doing there is seeking to remove a class on religion from the public school curriculum!

  4. Actually, Kramp-Karrenbauer is a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics, which is the lay organisation that is partnering with the German bishops’ conference to conduct the national Synodal Way this year. It is a process that is specifically looking at reforms in the church in light of the abuse crisis. The first of two assemblies had just concluded in Frankfurt when she gave the interview. So it wasn’t just a high ranking politician making a random statement, but one of a couple hundred Catholics who are working together with the bishops to hold a national dialogue about reform issues.

  5. Grrr. Germany simply does not have this dogmatic position on ‘separation of church and state’ that permeates U.S. public discourse — yet which somehow doesn’t seem to apply when U.S. flags appear in Christian spaces of worship?! Oddly (and blessedly IMHO), that would be unthinkable in Germany nowadays [it was not in Nazi times]. It is similarly unthinkable in Germany to ask a political candidate, in a debate or public forum, about their faith life. On the other hand, for AKK — who wears her Catholic colors openly, and thoughtfully so — it is seen as quite ok to speak to her own faith community’s contemporary struggles.

    1. Interesting, which Churches allowed the Nazi flag in their sacred spaces? While the Catholic Church was pretty mum throughout the Nazi regime. It seems that most bishops were not comfortable with giving outright support from my historical study of the situation. Granted individual pastors then as now probably did not heed the wishes of their bishop.

      1. The father of one of my high school classmates would tell us about the Nazi flag being displayed in his parish church. He eventually joined a resistance movement because of the inaction of RC priests & parishes, and ended up in a concentration camp. There was a picture on the wall of their house of him being carried out by a U.S. soldier. We were about the same height (around 6 ft 2 in my senior year); he weighed 85 pounds when the photo was taken.

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