More than 140 Catholic theologians from universities in Austria, Germany and Switzerland have called for the Church to end priestly celibacy, ordain women and allow lay people to help select bishops, among other changes.
The 143 professors said their appeal was made in response to the clergy sexual abuse scandals that surfaced in Europe last year and that they no longer could remain silent in the face of what they say is a lingering crisis within the Catholic Church.
The theologians, who also called for the Church to welcome same-sex couples and divorced and remarried couples, said their statement was issued to open a discussion about the future of the Church.
“We have the responsibility to contribute to a new start,” the statement said.
Judith Konemann, a professor from Munster and one of the signatories, told the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung: “It looks like we struck a nerve.”
Most of the changes sought by the theologians have no chance of being adopted by the Catholic Church. The Church teaches that it has no right to ordain women to the priesthood, and that any sexual activity outside of marriage, understood to be between a woman and a man only, is sinful.
Regarding divorce and remarriage, in the Catholic Church civil divorce doesn’t exclude one from the sacraments. A person cannot receive the sacraments if he or she remarries outside the Church while still bound by a previous marriage.
The German bishops’ conference said it would discuss the proposals at a meeting in March. Pope Benedict XVI will visit his native Germany on September 22 to 25.
The theologians’ appeal comes two weeks after a group of prominent German politicians urged the bishops to ordain older married men because of the dwindling number of priests.
The German bishops have said two-thirds of all parishes will not have their own priest by 2020 and have embarked on an effort to merge parishes in response.
The statement said that enacting the reforms would attract people back to the Church.
“The Church needs married priests and women in Church ministry,” the theologians said. The Church should not “shut out people who live in love, loyalty and mutual support as same-sex couples or remarried divorced people”, they said.
The professors also questioned actions by Pope Benedict that have brought back older worship practices. “The liturgy must not be frozen in traditionalism,” they said.