Over the past week, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has once again fueled discussion of the possibility of ordaining to the priesthood those who are called “viri probati”, i.e., married men who lead a virtuous life. Several reports have now been published in Germany which relate what Cardinal Marx himself just said at the assembly of the Bavarian Regional Committee of Catholics (Landeskomitee der Katholiken in Bayern), which is an assembly of Diocesan Councils of the Bavarian Dioceses, as well as including some other organizations and institutions with ecclesial approbation.
According to the report of the official website of the German bishops, Katholisch.de, Cardinal Marx encouraged in his talk on Friday, 10 November, in Munich, the debate about the viri probati. (As we earlier reported, in March of 2017, the German cardinal and adviser of Pope Francis in the Council of Nine Cardinals had initially shown himself to be somewhat hesitant to open up this whole debate, although we already had our own doubts about his purported reluctance and “reticence.”) As Katholisch.de now puts it in the subtitle of its own report: “Pope Francis is also already talking about it: Cardinal Reinhard Marx wants a broad debate about the ordination of married priests.”
The report continues, saying:
The President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, considers it to be legitimate to discuss new accesses to the priesthood. Thus, the possibility of ordaining to the priesthood proven married men (viri probati) should be thoroughly considered and discussed “in the larger context” of the topic, said Marx on Friday evening in Munich at the fall assembly of the Bavarian Regional Committee of Catholics.
According the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, Cardinal Marx reportedly said that “Pope Francis is now speaking with some people about this possibility.” At the same time, Cardinal Marx also stressed that this initiative is not coming from Rome itself. He added that he does not see any new developments with regard to female priests, inasmuch as the Female Deacon Commission as created by Pope Francis has not yet made any of its own statements. The German cardinal stressed that he does not think much of those parishes without a priest: “The Eucharist has to be celebrated.”
Importantly, at that same fall assembly of Diocesan councils, the Viennese theologian Father Paul Zulehner was also invited and asked to speak. He co-authored books with Bishop emeritus Fritz Lobinger (South Africa) who is a promoter of married priests, as well as of the idea of ordaining women to the priesthood. As we reported in March of 2017, Cardinal Marx revealed that, in 2015, Pope Francis had recommended to the German bishops during their ad limina visit in Rome that they read Lobinger’s books. Zulehner is also one of the two priests who launched, in response to the Filial Correction of Pope Francis concerning Amoris Laetitia, the Pro Pope Francis counter-initiative which has been now signed by many heterodox and progressive Catholic scholars and laypersons, such as the excommunicated Austrian lay activist Martha Heizer.
On Friday, Father Zulehner assured his audience that Pope Francis will give permission to ordain married priests for the West. According to Die Tagespost:
At the fall assembly of the Bavarian Regional Committee of Catholics, the Viennese pastoral theologian, Paul Zulehner, showed himself convinced that Pope Francis will admit new forms of the priesthood. “We will still experience it, if somebody does not shoot or poison the pope,” he said. In his eyes, it is now important to put pressures on the local bishops. Zulehner claimed that all conditions for admission [to the priesthood] are up for discussion, to include one’s level of education, sex, and one’s form of living [i.e., one’s “state in life”].
In addition to these statements made on Friday in Munich, the German Catholic website Katholisches.info also reports on a recent interview given by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella. Asked about the possibility that married men might be ordained to the priesthood, especially in light of the upcoming Synod on the Amazon region, Cardinal Stella quoted Pope Francis himself as saying that this is a topic “which one may discuss.” The topic of the lack of priests (and the Eucharist) “causes the pope much suffering,” said Stella. “To receive the Eucharist is a right of all the faithful [sic].”
In the context of this discussion about the ordination of married men in the West, there have now been rumors in circulation claiming that the German bishops have already sent to Pope Francis a list of German deacons who are married and who wish to be ordained to the priesthood. However, when OnePeterFive reached out to Matthias Kopp, the press speaker of the German Bishops’ Conference, we were told that these were false claims and that such a list does not exist.
Independently of these recent rumors, we have seen indications that preparations are being made to allow married men more widely to be ordained to the priesthood. Recent reports from reliable sources have confirmed this suspicion. If these indications are borne out in action at the upcoming synod for the Amazon region, it may well be another step toward the attenuation of the Catholic Church’s own distinctive identity and unique charism.