The head of Germany’s most influential Catholic lay organization has said he foresees systemic Church reform, predicts possibly “more married priests” sometime soon, and notes a greater openness to change in the Vatican.

Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), pointed to sexual abuse scandals, changes in sexual morality, and the participation of women in leadership positions as catalysts for change.

“Perhaps we’ll soon have more married priests,” he said.

Sternberg, who visited the Vatican March 7-9, told German Catholic news agency KNA that one is “unable to escape the conclusion that we need systemic reforms” also in Rome, and he pointed to the need to deal with homosexuality “as one of the great reform issues, sexuality and sexual morality in general.”

In terms of willingness to reform, Sternberg said some in the Vatican had changed their perspective. “Obviously a lot has changed,” he said, adding he felt there was a greater “openness” to discussion in Rome than two years ago.

“This concerns not only the abuse issue, but also questions of ecumenism, reception of the Eucharist, and freedom of theological teaching at universities,” Sternberg said.

Last year, the German bishops’ conference controversially decided to admit some Protestant spouses to Holy Communion, eventually obtaining Vatican and papal approval, despite some resistance from Vatican officials.

Sternberg went on to say that the German bishops' conference could “feel encouraged” that reforms are “now really happening,” and that the “pressure of angry and disappointed” laypeople and public was “helpful.”

Continuing on from Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s speech at the recent summit on clerical Church abuse in which he focused on the need to reform Church administration, the lay leader called for building a system of “administrative justice” and a “separation of powers” in the Church.

He called for a strengthening of positions of leadership for women and better training of clergy, laity and others. “You have to realize that the Church needs reform in order to regain trust,” he said.

Sternberg also said that all must “make clear” a “reversal is taking place” as a loss of confidence has gone to the heart of Church circles.

 

Married Priests Soon?

His prediction regarding married priests comes in the face of persistent speculation that ordination of married men of proven virtue (viri probati) will be on the agenda at the upcoming Amazonian synod on October as an answer to a shortage of priests in the region.

Critics are concerned the move could then be expanded to other parts of the world, effectively overturning the tradition of clerical celibacy in the Latin Rite.

One source close to the German hierarchy told the Register that, given the influence of the country’s Church, he believes Sternberg’s comments effectively seal the outcome. “After the Amazon synod, we will have married priests,” he said.

The ZdK is well-known for its heterodoxy as well as its influence.

In 2015, five German bishops wrote a letter openly criticizing the organization after it called for the admittance of civilly remarried divorcees to Holy Communion, acceptance of all forms of cohabitation, the blessing of same-sex couples, and the reconsideration of the Church’s teaching on contraception.