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In Austria the battle over priestly celibacy rages

While Pope Benedict’s former Zauberlehrling , Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn managed to extract himself from comments he made earlier this year about re-examining priestly celibacy in light of clerical abuse of minors, the debate over celibacy continues to rage in Austria and Germany. Bishops have been pitted against brother bishops and the mood is ugly.

The Ober-Oesterreichische Nachrichten reported today that more than 59 per cent of Austrian priests would like to abolish mandatory celibacy—and the number, unsurprisingly, is highest in the ultra-progressive diocese of Linz, where three quarters of the priests would like to abolish the tradition. It is a poorly kept secret that many of Austria’s priests keep mistresses.

One interesting detail on the matter is that, according to the study cited in the OONachrichten, younger priests tend to be more in favour of mandatory celibacy while older priests up to the age of 75 are more decidedly against it.

Bishop Paul Iby of Eisenstadt in the Burgenland threw the gauntlet speaking at the Congress for Parish Councils at Mariazell in mid-May. Speaking openly he said:”It would certainly be a relief for diocesan priests if mandatory celibacy were lifted.”

Linz’s Bishop Ludwig Schwarz defended celibacy in an interview on the occasion of his 70th birthday earlier this month.

“On the other hand,” he said “It is not a commandment of God but a commandment of the Church. We have the Gospel advice of Christ.”

He intimated that a council could change the Church’s teaching on celibacy, making it no longer mandatory, but said that he did not see it as a solution to the vocations crisis.

Others like Bishop Egon Capellari of Graz said: “I can understand, that looking at the reports of abuse one can come to such conclusions easily and that one expects a rejection of mandatory celibacy to awake a new blossoming of the pastoral. But that is short sighted. Our ties to the universal Church prevent us from simply discarding a shoe simply because it has become to tight for someone.”

In May, St. Pöltens’ Bishop Klaus Küng said abolishing mandatory celibacy would not solve the problems of the abuse crisis. He said that there was “no stronger sign to God and out of love to the Church than to freely and consciously sacrifice matrimony and family”. He blamed the increasing erotisation of society which he said had seeped into the Church for a weakening of the discipline.

In Germany the debate over celibacy has also reached the upper echelons of the Church’s hierarchy.

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