Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From Alsace, a call for married priests

A new interview by Hervé de Chalendar published in the Journal de L'Alsace (4/19/2009) introduced me to an author on the subject of optional celibacy with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Abbé Paul Winninger was born in 1920 in Thann. He was ordained in 1944 in Auvergne where had studied theology during the war. He taught philosophy at Strasbourg-Robertsau and Walbourg. After teaching for 37 years, he became a pastor in Gunstett for 27 years. He retired to the college in Zillisheim. He has written several books on the theme of celibacy and married priests including Pour une Eglise juste et durable célibat libre et appel à la prêtrise (‘L’Harmattan, 2009) and Des prêtres mariés pour l'Eglise? (Ed. de l'Atelier, 2003)

In response to the crisis in vocations, Abbé Winninger, 89 years old, has published a small book full of force in favor of "optional celibacy." That is, against the prohibition in Catholicism on ordaining married men.

Abbé Winninger, you state in your book that the obligation of celibacy for priests is an “arbitrary law”. When does it go back to?

At the Council of Elvira, in the 4th century, the first legislation recommended chastity and continence, but not celibacy yet. Its real institution dates from the 12th century, with the Second Lateran Council, and this was confirmed by the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Therefore it is a canon law, disciplinary, without any scriptural authority. We can argue about my proposal to waive this requirement but it is not heretical. Jesus does not say a word about it. The Church has been strongly influenced by Platonic philosophy, which despises the body ...

The main argument in favor of celibacy is that the priest must be fully available to the faithful, to devote all his energy to them. How do you respond to that?

I believe that changing the law would be a great benefit but I'm not saying that this would be a panacea. Let me be clear: I recognize the value of celibacy. If you want to be single, very well! If there are enough single people, let us give preference to the singles! But the problem is that there are not enough priests and that the ministry is no longer lively. However, without a priest, there is no Eucharist, and therefore no Church. Celibacy is not an order from the Lord, but providing pastoral care, that's a requirement!

The establishment of parish communities, with increased use of lay people, is not a sufficient response to the lack of priests?

I am very pleased with this mobilization of the laity, who are 90% women by the way, and I hope it remains and develops. I absolutely do not want the laity to decrease as more priests are ordained. But a priest must be present in every community, to do what only he can do because of ordination.

Is it courageous to take such a position?

You know, at my age ... When I spoke on this subject in 1977, it was a little bold, but today it is a truism! Around me, everyone is in agreement. The problem is the hierarchy ...

Are you afraid that this "hierarchy" may jeopardize the advances of Vatican II?

We will not retreat from Vatican II, it's impossible! The current Pope has an obsession with unity. He hopes to make the fundamentalists come back, but he will not succeed. He is wrong. This is probably an almost virtuous mistake, but it is an illusion.

Is he also wrong about priestly celibacy?

If the current situation with the lack of vocations continues another twenty or thirty years, their number will be so small that it will no longer be possible to have a real ministry and [change] will be necessary: the next pope will be obliged to do something. I say it in my book: this reform is necessary and urgent.

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