Why are Catholic clergymen celibate?

Celibacy

Wanted by God?

Unlike in the past, the critics in the Catholic Church's own ranks are no longer warned directly from the top. But no Pope has yet seriously questioned celibacy.

"Jesus lived it this way," say celibacy advocates. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus remained unmarried. A key point for believers is his sentence, quoted by Matthew in the Gospel: "Not everyone can grasp this word, only those to whom it has been given. For it is like this: some are incapable of marriage from birth, some are from human beings and some made themselves it for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. "

The supporters of celibacy interpret the passage in such a way that marriage should be avoided for servants of God "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven".

On the other hand, there is no Bible passage that indicates that Jesus required celibacy of his disciples. He demanded that they should be "meek" and "humble" "like the father and me," but nowhere does it say, "Do not marry."

Paul also writes in his letters to the Corinthians: "As for the question of celibacy, I have no command from the Lord." Many of Jesus' disciples were married. For example, the Bible speaks of "Peter's mother-in-law". And according to the Catholic view, Peter is at least the first Pope.

Family fathers as priests

For centuries after the founding of the Christian church, priests and bishops could decide for themselves whether they wanted to get married. The demand "no sex for priests" was first heard at the Synod of Elvira in 306 AD.

It was then that priests and bishops decided that Christian clergy should also be celibate in marriage. They wanted to enforce the law, which initially only applied to Spain, throughout the Christian world. But their attempt failed.

In the first millennium after Christ, the Church tried to punish unchaste priests or to have priests' children declared illegitimate. Women who had sexual intercourse with clergy were insulted by the Benedictine monk Damian (1006-1072) as "the bait of Satan".

Despite the widespread belief that celibacy was the appropriate way of life, a large proportion of pastors were married in the first millennium AD.

Celibacy became mandatory in the 12th century

What was considered an ideal for more than a thousand years became church law in the 12th century. Under Pope Innocent II, it was decided at the Second Lateran Council in 1139 to make celibacy compulsory for Christian priests all over the world. Existing clergy marriages have been declared invalid.

The spiritual rationale for celibacy and celibacy was "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven". But there were also secular reasons: the church property should be preserved and increased. After all, married priests bequeathed their property to their children. The belongings of single clerics, however, fell to the church after their death.

On paper, celibacy was finally enshrined in the council resolution, but not all priests adhered to it. Many refused to leave their wives and children.

Even in the centuries that followed, there was no question of unconditional chastity among many clerics. The Bishop of Basel is said to have fathered 20 children, and Bishop Heinrich von L├╝ttich even more than 60.

Even popes did not always take the promise of abstinence seriously: Innocent VIII is said to have had 16 children in the 15th century, his successor Alexander VI. at least five.

A controversial topic to this day

Discussions on the subject of celibacy continue to this day. The suspended priest and church critic Eugen Drewermann said in an interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur in 2010 that the point of celibacy lies in gaining power over people's souls.

But also prominent CDU politicians such as Norbert Lammert and Annette Schavan as well as around 150 respected Catholic theologians have publicly called for an end to the duty of celibacy in recent years.

Celibacy prevents young men from becoming priests, argue the opponents of celibacy. They attribute the shortage of young people in the Catholic Church to the duty of chastity.

The exceptions that exist in the Catholic Church for celibacy are also absurd. Priests of the Eastern Churches united with Rome, for example, are allowed to marry - there celibacy only applies to bishops.

Men who have converted and are ordained Catholic priests could also continue to live with their families. Last but not least, celibacy is associated with a lot of suffering and hypocrisy, because many priests have secret relationships with women, according to the critics.

The defenders of celibacy oppose that as a priest "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" one follows the example of the unmarried Jesus. There could be no question of forced celibacy, since the priests voluntarily committed themselves to this "gift to God".

And while family fathers have to worry about wives and children, the unmarried priest can devote himself fully to God and the people in his community.

Reforms in sight?

In 2014, many newspapers ran the headline that Pope Francis wanted to tackle the celibacy problem. They referred to an interview given by the Pope to the Italian newspaper "La Repubblica". In it he had indicated that he wanted to find solutions to the celibacy question.

The fact that the Vatican immediately denied the alleged statements caused less attention. In fact, so far no statement by Pope Francis suggests that he wants to reform celibacy.

The book "Pope Francis - My Life, My Way. El Jesuita" contains an interview that he gave during his time as Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In it, today's Pope tells the following joke about two priests: "One priest asks: 'Will a new council abolish compulsory celibacy?' The other: 'I think so.' The first: 'In any case, we will no longer experience that, at most our children will.' "