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New German Catholic leader stirs debate with celibacy remarks


The new leader of Roman Catholics in Germany has sparked controversy after being quoted as saying that priestly celibacy is not theologically necessary.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg made his comments in an interview with Der Speigel weekly publication after his election on 12 February as the new chairperson of the German (Catholic) Bishops’ Conference.

"Of course the link between the priesthood and celibacy is not theologically necessary," the archbishop was quoted as saying by the Hamburg-based weekly. He also said he hoped to improve inter-church relations and distanced himself from a Vatican statement that Protestant denominations could not be called "churches" in the proper sense of the word.

A spokesperson for Zollitsch later issued a statement saying there had been a "truncated and one-sided report" of the archbishop’s remarks. "Anyone who has read the whole of the interview with Archbishop Zollitsch will realise that he was not calling celibacy into question or seeking to abolish it," said Michael Maas, the archbishop’s secretary.

The German Bishops Conference is an assembly of 71 catholic bishops and archbishops from Germany’s 27 dioceses. They meet twice a year and issue general decrees, establish commissions and have members represented on various secular institutions.

The Deutsche Welle broadcasting station described as "unexpected" Zollitsch’s election by the members of the bishops’ conference to succeed Cardinal Karl Lehmann, after Lehmann announced he was retiring for health reasons.

Addressing the conference after his election, Zollitsch said he intended to continue promoting greater unity in Germany with the Protestant church. "It is important that both Christian churches are able to witness with one voice in the future," he stated, in words that were reciprocated by Germany’s top Protestant bishop, Wolfgang Huber.

"I hope that we will continue the good cooperation that the two churches established in recent decades," said Huber, who heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), in a letter to the new Catholic leader. "I hope that we will not only continue the ecumenical process of our Christian churches but will develop it further."

The Catholic lay movement "We are Church", which campaigns for reforms on such matters as the celibacy of priests in the church, said it hoped Zollitsch would defend the position of German Catholics in his discussions with Rome.

Zollitsch was born to a German family in 1938 in Yugoslavia, and came to southern Germany in 1946. He studied theology in Munich and Freiburg, where he was ordained a priest in 1965. He was appointed archbishop of Freiburg in 2003. [

Ecumenical News International