Cardinal Kasper: I Was Never Against Priestly Celibacy

Says “Times Have Changed” Since 1970 Request for Theological Study

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LISBON, Portugal, FEB. 9, 2011 ( Cardinal Walter Kasper, the retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that “times have changed” since 1970, when he requested a study to look into the need for obligatory priestly celibacy, and that he he never advocated its abolition.

As a priest of the Diocese of Rottenburg, Germany, Father Kasper signed a letter addressed to the bishops of Germany calling for a study on the obligation of celibacy. Other prominent signatories included Father Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time was a theology professor at the University of Regensburg, Karl Rahner, Otto Semmelroth and Karl Lehmann. 

In statements to the Portuguese news agency Ecclesia, the cardinal clarified that the intention was to “discuss” the issue, but without any proposal to “abolish” priestly celibacy.

“In the meantime it has been much discussed,” he continued. “There have been three world synods that have spoken of celibacy, and it was decided to maintain this discipline, and I myself believe that celibacy is a good for the Church.”

In the past week, more than 140 Catholic theologians of German, Swiss and Austrian Universities have endorsed a petition — titled “Church 2011: A Necessary Turn” — requesting a profound reform of the Church. Among other issues, the letter called for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the end of obligatory celibacy for priests.

Cardinal Kasper admitted that the discussion “is never closed,” but he stressed that the decision of the Church on the matter “has been taken,” and that the present Pope, Benedict XVI, is not thinking of “changing this discipline” of obligatory celibacy.

The cardinal was in Lisbon this week to receive an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Portugal.

Patriarch José da Cruz Cardinal Policarpo of Lisbon told Ecclesia that in Cardinal Kasper’s address to the university, he highlighted “the study of religion, of theology as culture, as a continuous effort of thought on man and reality from a Christian viewpoint.”

Cardinal Kasper served as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 2001 until last July.

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