Power, celibacy and sexual morality links hammered home

A professor of dogmatic theology told a recent episcopal conference to face up to the destructive link that is ‘now impossible to deny’ between ‘power, celibacy and sexual morality in the Church’.

German theologian Julia Knop said a “leaden silence” descended on the assembly from the moment she began to speak.

At the Plenary Assembly of the German Episcopal Conference, Knop told the bishops that “sexual abuse is not part of the Church’s DNA”.

It “does not originate either from celibacy or over-representation of homosexual men among the Catholic clergy”.

The novelty was in “recognising that these themes need to be reflected on together”.

“But I did not tell them anything they did not already know,” she said.

Knop also told the bishops that an independent report ordered by the Episcopal Conference on sexual abuse marked a turning point for many German Catholics.

“It showed that it was not a matter of a few isolated cases or individuals but that these abuses were linked to systemic factors,” she said.

She told the German bishops they need to act quickly.

“Believers are exercising enormous pressure to find theological solutions to this crisis,” she said.

Warning of a possible “internal schism between believers and clergy,” she told the bishops that “time is running out, the window of opportunity seems limited and it may already be too late”.

The Episcopal Conference says it will hold a synod to address these problems.

In Knop’s opinion, the synod’s effectiveness will depend on one condition: that theologians are given “real freedom to work without fear of being sanctioned”.

Knop is convinced that the role of local churches will be central.

“A highly centralized mentality has developed in the Catholic Church,” she said. “But each local church needs to accept its share of responsibility.

“Local solutions to theological problems can be found,” she noted, pointing to the particular responsibility of the German Catholic Church with its theological universities of international repute.

At the university where she teaches, Knop said there is “immense interest” in issues of power, sexual morality and celibacy on the part of students including some who are preparing for the priesthood.

“They will conceive the Church of the future and will no longer be able to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors,” she said.


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