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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Divorced man to be ordained priest

Due to a shortage of priests and social changes, the celibacy rules come under pressure

On Sunday, for the first time in the Diocese of Basel, a divorced man will be ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood - a process that would have been unlikely in the time when there was no shortage of priests shortage.

It is a special ordination, which Kurt Koch, Bishop of Basel, Switzerland undetakes on Sunday in the small town of Zeihen in the Aargau: Stephan Schmitt is receiving the priesthood, who, when he was commissioned to serve as a a pastoral assistant in a parish some years ago, was still married . Meanwhile, Schmitt has divorced - but only in the civil sense, which has no significance for his church: Roman Catholic couples cannot in practice dissolve their marriage according to ecclesiastical law. And married couples are not permitted as a priest.

Marriage not valid
Divorced and still a priest? In a lengthy canonical process Schmitt's marriage was annulled. According to Roman Catholic understanding, the marriage is not thus rendered a divorce, but declared to be invalid. For details in the case of Schmitt, the Diocese on the grounds of privacy rights makes no information available, but the grounds are varied, and they go far beyond the list of invalidity grounds in accordance with the Civil Code.

Nullity of marriage may be declared, for example, if someone contracting in the marriage was for psychological reasons not in a position to take account of the important obligations of marriage. According to an internal church assessment around 30 percent of divorced could have their marriage declared invalid according to ecclesiastical law. In Switzerland, the process, however,is completed only about 60 times a year.

Diocese takes cautious line
Schmitt is the first divorced person to be ordained a priest in the Diocese of Basel. The Diocese is not saying anything and is working with all its forces not to allow the matter to appear as the beginning of a series of similar ordinations or to be mentioned in connection with the priest shortage. Schmitt says nothing himself at present. A second pastoral assistant in a neighboring town, whose nullity process is still ongoing and who also aspires to consecration is "not a candidate for the priesthood, says a spokesman for the Diocese in very clear terms. The lack of priests plays a "not important" role in the annulment of a marriage,

The reluctance is not surprising, because the Roman Catholic Church, is threatened with a credibility problem, should the impression be reinforced that they, to resolve a personnel problem, set aside fundamental beliefs and turn a blind eye to divorce when married people are still excluded from the priesthood. What influence there has been of the shortage of priests in the case of Schmitt, without knowing the facts is difficult to assess. In times when there were too many priests, the ordination of a civilly divorced was less of a question, says Adrian Loretan, a professor of canon law at the University of Lucerne.
Married people as priests?
The ordination of a divorced person in Switzerland is not an absolute novelty. The case of a priest in central Switzerland is known who was approved for priestly office because he was never married in church. The annulment of marriages by the Roman Catholic Church, however, is not a viable way to alleviate the personnel shortage – not least because the procedure is lengthy and for those involved, as the disclosure of intimate details of the relationship, very drastic, as a priest recounts who has participated in such proceedings.
However, the incompatibility of marriage and the priesthood is overlooked due to a shortage of priests, but also under the pressure of sexual abuse cases. Not only Bishop Koch, but also the President of the Swiss Bishops 'Conference and Bishop of Sion, Norbert Brunner, spoke in an interview for the relativisation of compulsory celibacy: "I believe that in the Bishops' conference there is fairly unanimous opinion that in Switzerland it should be possible for married men to be ordained as priests "(NZZaS 29. 11. 09).

Without movement in Rome, the abolition of mandatory celibacy in the centrally structured church is, however, inconceivable - although even this step is not really new: Until the Second Lateran Council in 1139, there were married and unmarried priests in the Catholic Church.

Rather less misleading history of celibacy in the Church.
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