The president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference has urged the Vatican to eliminate its celibacy rule and consider admitting female priests, following the revelation of more than 1,000 cases of sexual abuse by priests since 1950. Bishop Felix Gmur expressed his belief that celibacy, which he views as a sign of dedication to God, is no longer understood by society today. He argued that the time has come to abolish celibacy and suggested that allowing married priests would be a viable option.
The Catholic Church currently prohibits clergy from marrying or engaging in any form of sexual activity. However, in 2019, the Vatican acknowledged that these rules are frequently broken, leading to a confidential set of guidelines outlining how to handle cases of priests fathering children.
A study commissioned by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference earlier this month shed light on the prevalence of abuse within the Church. The report revealed that over 1,000 cases of alleged sexual abuse involving clergy occurred in Switzerland between 1950 and the present day. Disturbingly, three-quarters of the victims were minors, and it is believed that around 510 individuals participated in the abuse. The study also exposed the practice of the Church transferring accused clerics to different areas or even overseas to shield them from criminal prosecution.
In light of these findings, Bishop Gmur plans to advocate for decentralization within the Church. He believes that individual dioceses should be granted the authority to establish their own rules regarding celibacy and the ordination of female priests. Alongside this, the Swiss Bishops’ Conference has announced its intention to establish a criminal and disciplinary tribunal to investigate and punish those responsible for the alleged abuse. However, such a tribunal would clash with Canon law, which does not allow for this type of procedure. This could potentially lead to a conflict between the conference and the Vatican.
Pope Francis, recognizing the seriousness of sexual abuse within the Church, pledged in 2019 to address this “destructive evil.” He issued a decree making it mandatory for priests and members of religious orders to report any suspected cases. However, the Pope has faced accusations of tolerating abuse by high-ranking clergymen, including his “trusted counselor,” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
The call to eliminate the celibacy rule and consider female priests represents a significant challenge to the traditional practices of the Catholic Church. The issue of celibacy has been a subject of debate within the Church for many years, with some arguing that allowing priests to marry would alleviate the sexual repression that may contribute to instances of abuse. However, any potential changes will undoubtedly face resistance, as they would require a departure from long-established doctrine and tradition.
As the discussion on this topic continues, it is crucial to prioritize the protection of victims and ensure that appropriate measures are in place to prevent future abuse within the Church. The findings of the Swiss study serve as a powerful reminder of the urgent need for reform and accountability.