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Benedict Woes Come as German Church Reform Pressure Rises

Last week, Marx made his clearest call yet for loosening the celibacy requirement for priests, saying there is a “question mark” over “whether it should be taken as a basic precondition for every priest.” Another top European progressive, Jesuit Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg and head of the commission of EU bishops conferences, called for changes in the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality and priestly celibacy.

Meanwhile, the German Bishops’ Conference welcomed an initiative last month by 125 church employees who publicly outed themselves as queer, saying they want to “live openly without fear” in the church and pushing demands for reform.

At its weekend meeting, delegates to the “Synodal Path” strongly backed calls for a “change of culture” in church labor law, Baetzing said. They also called for the faithful to be given more of a say in choosing new bishops.

However, it’s unclear how many of the reforms proposed by the “Synodal Path,” whose next assembly is scheduled for Sept. 8-10, will become reality.

Sessions so far have pointed to a clear pro-reform majority, including among German bishops. But the process has sparked fierce resistance inside the church, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on hot-button issues.

It is being watched closely in Rome, where Francis has encouraged such “synodal” deliberations by national churches but has also sent out a strong warning to not go beyond established Catholic doctrine.

While progressives cheer calls for changes to church positions on celibacy and homosexuality, conservatives have voiced alarm that the German church is heading to schism, or a formal break from Rome. And while Francis has issued groundbreaking gestures of openness and welcome to gay Catholics, he has not altered the church’s teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

Francis also has dodged taking a stand on allowing married priests or on women deacons.

Phyllis Zagano of Hofstra University, who served on Francis‘ first study commission on women deacons, cheered the German vote in favor of them and said the church as a whole needs them. The vote, she said, “comes at a time when the church continues to struggle against its history of abuse and its embedded clericalism, which combine to drive away women and their families.”

But the papal nuncio in Germany, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, offered no encouragement to the synodal assembly in a statement that emphasized the importance of the broader global church, the German news agency dpa reported.

He noted that “the pope is, so to speak, the point of reference and the center of unity for over 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide, 22.6 million of whom live in Germany.”

This article originally appeared here