Church historian Hubert Wolf argues for the abolition of celibacy as an obligation for Catholic priests, also because celibacy makes people ill. Dogmatist Helmut Hoping, on the other hand, wants to stick with tradition – with exceptions.
Interviewer: You call Hubert Wolf's book a pamphlet along the lines of the anti-celibacy campaigns. Why?
Prof. Helmut Hoping (professor of dogmatics at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau): Because this writing ames that celibacy is pathogenic. That means that it causes suffering and ultimately makes people ill. It ames that celibacy is not livable even among the broad Catholic clergy. Wolf speaks of a clerical pathogenic system that must be overcome. For him, one element of this system is celibacy.
In the chapter about the Enlightenment and the anti-celibacy movements since the Enlightenment, he supports the positions of the pastoral theologian Johann Baptist Hirscher from Tubingen completely uncritically. He ames that celibacy has neurotic effects on a broad scale, because the renunciation of lived sexuality makes people ill, at least on average. And that is the fundamental premise of this writing. At the end it is also clearly said that it is necessary to overcome this pathogenic-clerical system.
Interviewer: But isn't it becoming more and more difficult for the church today to justify theologically the obligation of celibacy for priests??
Hoping: There are, of course, theses in this book that cannot be contradicted. On the one hand, the thesis that married priests existed in the Catholic Church of the Roman Rite for a long time until the Council of Trent and partly beyond. That there are married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches, that is, in the Churches of the East that are connected to Rome. And that, of course, in view of the shortage of priests, one has to ask oneself whether one wants to keep the connection between priesthood and celibacy in its present form.
Interviewer: In our this site interview, you have already spoken out in favor of a limited admission to the priesthood of so-called viri probati, i.e. men who have proven themselves in marriage, family and profession. Where is the difference to Hubert Wolf?
Hoping: This proposal by the pastoral theologian Philipp Muller from Mainz and by me is based on completely different premises. First, we ame that celibacy is livable, which Wolf disputes. But there are always people who are able to live this ascetic form of celibacy and permanent sexual abstinence, not only in the monasteries, but also in the secular clergy.
We have argued above all with the shortage of priests, the ever larger pastoral spaces, which ultimately lead to the priest becoming more or less invisible and fewer and fewer people having contact with a priest. Then we came to the conclusion that it is necessary to ordain married men as priests, at least in part, where it seems necessary for pastoral reasons, so that the sacramental structure of the Church does not evaporate.
Interviewer: But that would mean that in the case of celibacy no question of faith is touched?
Hoping: Of course, celibacy is not a dogma, because there are married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches. If this were a dogmatic question, of course it would not be possible. But there has been since the apostolic origins precisely this tradition of celibate life for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. I would not argue that celibacy is of apostolic origin, but there has been the tradition of abstinence celibacy of married priests and then later the tradition of so-called marriage celibacy.
I believe that the celibate life, where it is lived, by priests until today is an important sign also in the following of Christ. In contrast to Hubert Wolf, I would therefore not fundamentally question celibacy as such in this form, also because of the long tradition in the Catholic Church.
And if I confirmed at the beginning that I see in the book a kind of pamphlet, then one must take into account that there are passages where it becomes clear what the intention of this book is. There is talk, for example, that the seminaries of the Catholic Church are hotbeds of clerical apartheid. These are of course fighting slogans, which show that Hubert Wolf is concerned with overcoming the clerical system as a whole, with celibacy as part of this system. And when he claims that celibacy is against nature, the difference to the proposal I made with Philipp Muller becomes clear.
Interviewer: This fall, the Amazon Synod in the Vatican will also deal with celibacy. Also with the synodal way, which the German bishops decided, the topic is not to be excluded. What do you think will come out of this in the end??
Hoping: I am not a prophet, but if in the Amazon Synod the decision were taken to ordain viri probati as priests in individual cases, then this demand will also become louder in Europe and North America. At the Amazon Synod, the question of women's diaconate will also be raised. This is to be considered however again separately, because it never becomes so correctly clear, around which diaconate of the woman it is to concern here exactly. In any case, the ie will be new offices and services for women. This does not necessarily have to be the consecration office.
The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.