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Germany

Catholic Church Chief Stirs Controversy With Celibacy Comments

Barely a week since taking office, the head of the German Catholic Church, Robert Zollitsch, has raised eyebrows with comments that clerical celibacy is not "theologically necessary."

A crowd of bishops in Rome with a statue of St. Peter in the foreground

Zollitsch doesn't seem to think that priests necessarily have to stay celibate

In an interview with German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, 69-year-old archbishop of Freiburg, Robert Zollitsch, who is now head of the German Catholic Church, said that celibacy and the unmarried lives of priests were a "gift," but not essential.

Furthermore, he said it would be a "revolution" if the celibacy tradition within the Catholic Church were dissolved.

This week's publication of the interview prompted a swift response from Regensburg's bishop, Gerhard-Ludwig Müller.

"All of the specifics of being a priest and the corresponding rules of celibacy could not be expanded upon, as a theological context would require, in a quick interview," he said in a press release.

"The Second Vatican Council made clear in Article 16 -- "Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests" -- what the decisive requirements are," Müller added. "That is and will remain the policy of the Catholic Church."

No end to strife in sight

Zollitsch with his predecessor, Cardinal Karl Lehmann

Zollitsch (l) follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Karl Lehmann

Müller maintained that no one should presume that the celibacy rules of the Catholic Church would be abolished.

Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung daily pointed out in its Tuesday edition that such a refutation of Zollitsch's stance reflects the displeasure it caused among the more conservative bishops in the German Bishops' Conference, an assembly of the bishops and archbishops of all the German dioceses.

Yet the majority of bishops within the conference voted for Zollitsch last week as the new head of the German Catholic Church.

The archbishop of Freiburg is not only known for his more liberal views on celibacy, he has also professed his support for day-care nurseries for children (as opposed to the more traditional view that mothers should stay at home).

He has also said that he wasn't necessarily opposed to the German government drawing up legal guidelines for gay and lesbian partnerships -- a view strongly rejected by Pope Benedict XVI.

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