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The celibacy (from Latin caelebs , alone, unmarried alive ' , Latin caelibatus , celibacy' , not technical terminology also the celibacy) is in Christianity the promise future celibate to live. In addition to the Roman Catholic Church , the Orthodox , Anglican and Evangelical Churches also know the promise or vow of celibacy , celibacy and chastity for religious men and women , hermits , consecrated virgins and deaconesses .

While celibate life in the particular Latin Church of the Roman Catholic Church has been compulsory for priests since 1073, in the Eastern Catholic Churches unified with Rome and in the Orthodox Churches this only applies to bishops and monks and to priests who are at the time of ordination are unmarried. Pope Francis extended the old right of the bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches to admit married men to the priestly ordination in June 2014 to western areas, as far as there is a separate Eastern Church hierarchy.

Roman Catholic Church

The celibacy obligation

Celibacy, which is also regarded as following an evangelical advice (in addition to poverty and obedience ), is based on the freely chosen way of life of celibacy "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven", of which Jesus Christ speaks in Mt 19.12  EU . It is understood as the undivided following of Christ and a sign of end-time salvation.

Consecrated persons (religious) generally live celibate in all denominations. Religious , members of secular institutes and hermits commit themselves in public professions or in promises to a life according to the evangelical counsels (celibacy, poverty and obedience). Can. 599 CIC : "The evangelical counsel of chastity adopted for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which is a sign of the world to come and a source of richer fruitfulness of an undivided heart, brings with it the obligation to complete celibacy celibacy." Consecrated virgins also publicly vow a life in a state of virginity or perfect chastity in the hands of the diocesan bishop (this proposal implicitly includes the observance of the other two evangelical counsels). Vows or promises of virginity or celibacy accepted by a local bishop or superior in the name of the church constitute an obstacle to marriage under canon law .

Commitment in the Latin Church

In the Latin Church (West Church) celibacy according to Canon 277 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law for aspiring priests with the ordination to deacon canonically basically mandatory. An exceptional dispensation from celibacy is reserved for the Pope .

“The clergy are required to maintain complete and eternal abstinence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven; therefore they are obliged to celibacy, which is a special gift of God, through which the spiritual ministers can more easily cling to Christ with an undivided heart and devote themselves more freely to the service of God and man. "

- Codex Iuris Canonici

The promise of celibacy is therefore a prerequisite for ordination .

Dispensation from duty of celibacy

There are married priests in the Catholic Western Church only in exceptional cases. Married priests or pastors who have converted from Anglican churches or the Protestant churches to the Catholic Church are accepted into the church service and ordained as priests. There are also cases of celibacy dispensation for priests from underground churches, such as the Czech one during socialist rule.

In addition, there is a permanent diaconate in the Latin Church . The permanent deacon must choose either marriage or a celibate life prior to ordination. A marriage after ordination (also about the death of the wife or in the event of cancellation of the marriage) is also here with Zölibatsdispens possible by the Pope.

Commitment in the Eastern Uniate Churches

In the Eastern particular Churches of the Catholic Church (as well as in the Eastern Orthodox Churches ) it is tradition that married men are ordained as priests. This tradition was limited to the Eastern Church areas such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe until Pope Francis lifted the corresponding ban in June 2014 for those Western regions in which there is a separate Eastern Church hierarchy.

Celibacy is compulsory for bishops. Most of them come from the monastic status anyway, since bishops often held the office of archimandrite (abbot) before their ordination (sometimes widowed priests are ordained as bishops). However, in these churches too, all priests must decide before their diaconal ordination whether they want to be married or celibate; after that a marriage is also excluded here. A new marriage after the death of the woman or after a separation or divorce (which is possible in some of these churches) is also not permitted.

History of the obligation of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church


Recent research has shown that the obligation of celibacy for priests has existed for much longer than previously assumed. What is important here is the distinction between celibacy and celibacy celibacy. Celibacy means that clerics are not allowed to be married. With celibacy of celibacy, it is entirely possible for married couples to receive ordinations; however, they must be celibate from the day of ordination. The celibacy of celibacy was first established as a law at the Synod of Elvira (approx. 306). Since such legal decisions were usually only made when there was already a common practice, the historical beginning of priestly celibacy should not be the date of this legal determination, as it can be assumed that a longer tradition already existed. Some historians (Cochini, Heid et al.) Argue that celibacy goes back to apostolic times.

According to canon 33 of Elvira, married deacons, presbyters and bishops had to live sexually celibate ( abstinere se a coniugibus suis et non generare filios ). This provision was also adopted by the Council of Nicaea . The apostolic constitutions of the late fourth century forbade priests from marrying women of certain classes or professions. The Council of Toledo (400) forbade priests a third marriage, Pope Gelasius (492–496) also forbade a second marriage . Pope Leo the Great (440–461) introduced the rule that candidates for the priesthood had to make the promise of celibacy before being ordained a subdeacon . This level of consecration was not part of the sacrament of consecration , but its meaning was tantamount to an engagement before marriage.

middle Ages

Since the Trullan Synod in 691, the particular Churches in the East took a different path with regard to priestly marriage than that of the West, where the trend towards a general obligation of priests to be celibate, as enforced in 1139, steadily solidified. So it happens that in the churches of the Eastern tradition to this day only the bishops are obliged to be celibate, whereas priests as such are only obliged if they were unmarried at the time of their ordination.

In the high Middle Ages, as part of the church reforms of the 11th century, the transition from celibacy to celibacy to the generally binding celibacy of priests took place in the Western Church . In 1022 Pope Benedict VIII ordered at the Synod of Pavia together with Emperor Henry II that clergymen were no longer allowed to marry in future. Violations of celibacy were punished by church sentences, and clergymen who were already married should be deprived of office and property. Cultic purity played a role as a reason, as it became customary for priests to celebrate Holy Mass daily. Another important factor in this process was the fact that if the clergy were married, church property would have been inherited by their children. It was therefore stipulated that the children of the clergy were not free as church listeners . In 1031 the Synod of Bourges forbade all believers to marry a cleric or his children. At the time of Nicholas II , the Lateran Synod of 1059 forbade those priests who had notorious cohabitation from celebrating Holy Mass.

In Germany, however, only a few bishops dared to proclaim the Roman decrees. The bishop of Passau was almost lynched by the clergy and was eventually driven out. Ministers of the lower clergy were particularly upset and protested by the thousands against the new laws. In the Diocese of Constance alone there were 3600 clergy at a synod. The writing Descriptio Udalrici , ascribed to Bishop Ulrich von Augsburg , was widespread and claimed that the forced celibacy was contrary to the scriptures and that the immorality of the clergy could only be ended by church marriage of the secular priests . The council of 1079 condemned this writing.

The enforcement of priestly celibacy was not only pursued by the church authorities, the people also often demanded exemplary, unmarried priests. The demands made by laypeople on the clergy should be seen in the context of internal church reform efforts, which were directed against abuses such as abuse of power, purchase of office and nepotism in the church. Criticism of the non-observance of celibacy by the priests of the Latin Church accordingly also played a role in the medieval heretic movements , which represented Donatist errors (e.g. the Lombard poor ) or a hostile dualism (e.g. the Cathars ).

Up until the Second Lateran Council (1139) there were both married and unmarried priests who were called to abstain from sex from the time of their ordination. The council stipulated that "higher clerics who have married or have a concubine [...] lose office and benefit " (Canon 6) and that masses by priests who have a wife or concubine are "no longer heard" may (canon 7). At the same time, ordination to the priesthood became a dividing obstacle to marriage in the legal understanding of the Roman Catholic Church - which it still is today.

Since then, celibacy has been an indispensable requirement for admission ( conditio sine qua non ) to receive ordination in the Latin Church . At the request of the responsible local bishop, the Pope can, however, grant dispensation from celibacy for priests of the Latin rite without further justification (can 1049 CIC) , which he only makes use of in rare cases - currently only for married Evangelical or Anglican clergymen who have converted to Catholicism and who are admitted to priestly ordination by a bishop (see celibacy dispensation ).

Modern times

Unsuccessful initiatives to lift the obligation of celibacy for priests were taken in the 15th century at both the Council of Constance and the Council of Basel . Especially in the period up to the Council of Trent (1545–1563) it happened again and again, to varying degrees from region to region, that priests lived openly with concubines. They faced heavy fines; sometimes the amounts to be paid amounted to more than an annual salary. During the time of the Renaissance Popes, cohabitation was also widespread among bishops and in the high clergy up to the popes. Jón Arason , the last Roman Catholic bishop of Iceland during the Reformation, was married and had three sons. At the same time, in the course of the Reformation, strong currents emerged that generally rejected celibacy as a Christian way of life and thereby distinguished themselves from the Roman Church. The celibacy of the Roman Catholic priests thus represented a denominational distinctive feature, which contributed to its increased enforcement and justification in the course of the Counter-Reformation .

With the emergence of reform Catholicism and modernism around 1900, celibacy also came into focus. Both celibacy itself and the compulsion to be celibate were criticized, but there was no unified line among the reformist Catholics. Between 1900 and 1910, German-speaking opponents and advocates of celibacy discussed it intensively and publicly in monographs and, above all, magazines, such as in the Free German Papers . With the beginning of the First World War, however, the discussion lost its importance.

Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) emphasized in its decree on the service and life of priests Presbyterorum ordinis (no. 16) that celibacy is "in many ways appropriate to the priesthood". The council stated that complete abstinence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is not required by the nature of the priesthood itself, “as the practice of the earliest church and the tradition of the Eastern churches shows, where it is along with those from a graceful vocation together with everyone Bishops choose the celibate life, there are also well-deserved priests in marriage ”. The Council admonished the married priests of the Eastern Churches to “persevere in their holy calling and continue to give their lives with full devotion for the flock entrusted to them”. For the Latin Church, the Council reaffirmed celibacy: “This Holy Synod approves and reaffirms the law for those who are elected to the priesthood, the Spirit giving it confidence that the Father is called to the celibate life so appropriate to the New Testament priesthood will be given generously, if only those who partake in the priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of ordination, along with the whole Church, humbly and fervently ask for it. "

In the course of the council deliberations on this topic, Pope Paul VI. a public discussion about the obligation to be celibate as "not opportune". The proposal had been prepared by bishops from Latin America , in view of the shortage of priests and the needs of the constantly growing population, to allow the individual bishops' conferences to admit so-called viri probati to priestly ordination. Cardinal Augustin Bea also pleaded that the council should treat “the one and the other priestly class: the class of complete abstinence in celibacy and that of the perfect (if not to say ideal) marriage of the married priest”. The preparatory commission took the Pope's wishes into account and emphasized the high internal convergence of the celibate way of life and priestly office and endeavored to adequately recognize the position of the priests of the Eastern Churches and the equal importance of their priesthood. This text was then adopted by the council on December 7, 1965 by 2390: 4 votes.


Calling and following Christ

Singleness “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” is one of the evangelical counsels , according to Mt 19.12  EU a recommendation of Christ to those who can grasp it. One of the most important reasons for choosing a celibate life is the example of Jesus Christ, who was himself unmarried and called to follow him. St. Paul advises this ( 1 Cor 7:27  EU ) and wishes that as many people as possible were called to the celibate way of life for Christ's sake ( 1 Cor 7.7  EU , 1 Cor 7.32-36  EU ), but adds that everyone has " his gift of grace from God, one like that, the other like that. "

According to Christian tradition, Jesus is said to have lived celibacy. There is no record of a marriage of Jesus in the New Testament . The late apocryphal, Gnostically influenced Gospel of Philip , which was written not before 150 AD, but most likely in the 3rd century, names a partner. Some historians and theologians have pointed out that almost all Jews were married, including Jesus. On the other hand, others argue that at the time of Jesus there were, however, the celibate communities of the Essenes and a celibate life was thus known, although rarely, nevertheless. Those authors who advocate a marriage of Jesus argue that their non-transmission in the New Testament had theological reasons. Possibly the wedding at Cana (2 EU ) is a heavily revised tradition of a marriage of Jesus himself; In particular, the failure to mention the brothers of Jesus, but above all the bride and groom, would suggest a heavy editorial work. Some historians also related Mary Magdalene's close relationship with Jesus to a marriage of both.


The symbolism of celibacy is as crucial viewed as a reference to the kingdom of heaven, where there will be according to church doctrine in any case, the love God and neighbor, but no more marriage and sexual union of man and woman (cf.. Mk 12,25  EU ) . Whoever lives the sacred bond of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven bears witness to the future world awaited in faith, in which human love for women and men will find its definitive fulfillment. At the same time, as opposed to a one-sided spiritualistic or dualistic understanding, it is emphasized that in this future state of life conjugal love also experiences its perfection and that bodily glory is also included in this perfection with the resurrection . Marriage and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven thus each become a sign of God's love for mankind that surpasses everything.


Among the theological arguments, the understanding of celibacy as a charism , as a gift from God, plays a role. Opponents of celibacy, however, argue that those who have actually been given charismatic celibacy do not need an obligation because they chose this way of life voluntarily. They also emphasize the need to separate the vocation to the priesthood from the vocation to celibacy, and refer, among other things, to the Second Vatican Council , which describes celibacy as not necessary for the priesthood, but as "appropriate" and for the realm the Latin Church adheres to:

“The Church has always valued complete and constant celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which Christ the Lord recommended, has been gladly accepted and praised by not a few believers in all centuries until today, especially with regard to the priestly life. After all, it is a sign and at the same time an impetus for pastoral love and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. It is true that it is not required by the nature of the priesthood itself, as the practice of the earliest Church and the tradition of the Eastern Churches shows, where, in addition to those who choose the celibate life together with all bishops out of a gracious vocation, there are also highly deserved priests in marriage.

Cultic purity

Cultic purity already played a role in the Old Testament with the Jewish priests in relation to their temple service. According to the Mosaic laws, however, marriage was allowed to them, even if only to virgin Israelites ( Leviticus chapter 21) or widows who were married to a priest ( Ezekiel chapter 44). The argument of cultic purity because of the daily celebration of the holy mass sacrifice has been preserved as an aspect of the official way of thinking and reading of Vatican pronouncements since the early church up to the Second Vatican Council, but was ultimately influenced by the return of this council to the biblical Statements dropped.


Another reason given is the full ability and availability for activities in the priestly service. This argument goes back to the apostle Paul ( 1 Cor 7:32  EU ). Unmarried priests could do more for their congregation and would not need to take a wife or their own children into consideration when carrying out their work. Comparative and substantive surveys are missing, however, and the love relationship that gives power in marriage and family is ignored. Through sublimation, the celibate is supposed to convert forces that are not needed for the satisfaction of the sex drive into spiritual energy.

Bible passages in the New Testament

The following scriptures refer to voluntary celibacy and are used by some theologians as a justification for celibacy:

"If someone comes to me and does not respect father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his life, then he cannot be my disciple."

- Lk 14.26  EU

“Not everyone can grasp this word, only those to whom it is given. Because it is like this: some are incapable of marriage from birth, some are made for it by people and some have made themselves for it - for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. "

- Mt 19.12  EU

“I wish all people were [unmarried] like me [Paul]. But everyone has his gift of grace from God, one like that, the other like that. "

- 1 Cor 7,7  EU

“As for the question of celibacy, I have no command from the Lord. I only give you advice as one whom the Lord has made trustworthy by his mercy. I mean, it's good because of the distress ahead, yes, it's good for people to be like that. "

- 1 Cor 7,25-26  EU

“I wish you had no worries. The unmarried is concerned about the Lord's cause; he wants to please the Lord. The married person cares about the things of the world; he wants to please his wife. So it is divided.
But the unmarried woman and the virgin are concerned about the cause of the Lord, in order to be holy in body and spirit. The married woman cares about the things of the world; she wants to please her husband. I say this for your benefit: not to put a shackle on you, but rather so that you can always serve the Lord in a right way and undisturbed. "

- 1 Cor 7,32-35  EU

"For when people rise from the dead, they will no longer marry, but will be like the angels in heaven."

- Mk 12.25  EU

In addition to justifying celibacy with the Bible, there are also passages in the Pauline scriptures that refer to marriage:

“It is good for the man not to touch a woman. Because of the danger of fornication, everyone should have their wife and everyone should have their husband. "

- 1 Cor 7.1–2  EU

“I say to the unmarried and the widows: It is good if they stay like me. But if they cannot celibate, they should marry. It is better to get married than to be consumed with lust. "

- 1 Cor 7,8-9  EU

“Therefore the bishop should be a man without blame, married only once, sober, prudent, of worthy demeanor, hospitable, able to teach; he is not a drinker or a violent person, but considerate; he is neither contentious nor greedy for money. He should be a good father and raise his children to obedience and all decency. "

- 1 Tim 3, 2–4  EU

These biblical passages can, however, also be relativized in the corresponding context: The quoted Paul statement ( 1 Cor 7,2  EU ) is relativized by him himself (cf. 1 Cor 1,25  EU ), and the statement in Timothy relates to the office of a church leader and not on the episcopate as it later developed. In addition, this verse refers to a time when Christianity was still developing and living in the near expectation of the imminent completion of the world through the second coming of Jesus.

Breach of the promise of celibacy

In general canon law, Canon 1395 does not specify any specific punishment for an offense against the assumed celibacy obligation. Only if a cleric persists in their negligent relationship does the suspension take place automatically . If the relationship continues, further church sentences up to and including dismissal from the clergy ( laicisation ) can be imposed. The responsible professor always decides on the concrete procedure .

Priests can only marry ecclesiastically under the condition that they are laicized, since consecration is an obstacle to marriage . In mid-2009, the Congregation for the Clergy declared that it wanted to simplify the laicisation of priests in future in order to achieve a legally clearer situation for those affected.

Despite the obligation to be celibate, there are Roman Catholic priests who enter into relationships and also father children. In 1995, the case of Hansjörg Vogel , who resigned as Bishop of Basel when it became known that he would become a father, caused a stir . It was the same in Ireland in 1992 when the paternity of Bishop Eamon Casey in Galway became known there.

Hamburg's auxiliary bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke spoke out against making the situation of celibate priests taboo. In contrast, he saw no reason to abolish celibacy.

According to the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica 2007, 69,000 priests gave up their office in the years 1967 to 2006 in order to get married. 11,200 returned to office after a separation or after the death of their partner.

Recent discussion within the Roman Catholic Church

The regulation of the obligation to live celibacy has been the subject of controversy throughout the history of the Church. These discussions found a more recent expression following the second Vatican Council, for example at the Joint Synod of the Dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany (1971–1975). As early as February 1970, nine theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger and Walter Kasper , who later turned away from this position, as well as Karl Lehmann and Karl Rahner , wrote to the German bishops in a memorandum asking them to abide by the priests' duty To put celibacy to the test. These suggestions were generally accepted in a declaration by the German Bishops' Conference, but had no practical consequences.

In 1969, at the Pastoral Concilie of the Netherlands in Noordwijkerhout, the vast majority of delegates called for the abolition of the priestly celibacy obligation, with most of the bishops abstaining. The Apostolic Nuncio in the Netherlands, Angelo Felici , left the room in protest immediately before the vote. Despite the majority abstention, the bishops, led by Cardinal Bernard Jan Alfrink of Utrecht, declared themselves ready to present the result in Rome. Pope Paul VI expressed "deeply saddened" about the votes of the Dutch. The resolution also led to completely disorganized conditions in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and as a result to the convening of a Dutch particular synod by Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1979. There, the majority of the convened bishops decided that the results of the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout were null and void to explain.

Looking back on a project trip to Peru in 1988, the theologian and later Curia Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller spoke out in favor of the admission of married men to the priesthood, "in the many hard-to-reach parishes or in the urban mass parishes religiously identified and To ordain priests to theologically trained fathers of the family so that they can carry out the basic pastoral and liturgical services on site. ”Müller could imagine that church leadership teams could be formed from celibate and married priests, and explained:“ Such a new concept would not contradict tradition the church. Because loyalty to tradition does not mean that the church is in every case only committed to past history, but rather to future history, for which the church has to exercise its always identical mission to salvation. "

Current discussions about celibacy focus primarily on the question of the shortage of priests . On the one hand this is used as an argument for the abolition of the celibacy obligation of the priests, on the other hand it is denied that there is a causal connection or that there is a lack of priests at all in the world church. These discussions, too, have so far either not been taken up or rejected by the Curia and the Synods of Bishops .

At the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon - New Paths for the Church and a Holistic Ecology ( Amazon Synod ) in October 2019, 128 bishops with 41 votes against, recommended that the responsible authorities recommend permanent deacons to become priests in the Amazon region after completing a priestly training consecrated when they had already started a family. With the admission of such men to ordination, pastoral care and the celebration of the Eucharist should be ensured in congregations that suffer particularly from a lack of priests . In his post-synodal letter Querida Amazonia (“Beloved Amazonia”) of February 2, 2020, Pope Francis did not take up this vote, instead the Bishops' Conference should make other efforts to make the Eucharistic celebration more frequent in remote parts of the Amazon region.

Celibacy in other denominations

Old Catholic Church

In the Old Catholic Church there is no obligation for priests to live celibacy.

Anglican Church Fellowship

The Anglican Church Fellowship has no obligation of celibacy for priests or bishops.

Armenian Apostolic Church

Both married and celibate priests serve in the Armenian Apostolic Church . The latter are called Abegha ("priest monks") and wear a black hooded headgear, called Veghar , which symbolizes the rule of the Church over them. Bishops, archbishops and the Katholikoi are called from among the celibate priests.

Lutheran churches

Criticism of the grievances resulting from the spread of cohabitation could be heard within the church as early as the late Middle Ages. An ethical and regulatory appreciation of marriage already exists in humanism ( Leon Battista Alberti , Albrecht von Eyb , Erasmus von Rotterdam and also Luther's opponent Hieronymus Emser ) and also in late medieval artisan culture. Luther's rejection of celibacy, on the other hand, was based on his doctrine of justification (“ sola gratia ”). Because if man can do nothing for his soul's salvation than to believe in Christ, because everything depends solely on the grace of God, then it follows that every human effort to do more for the own salvation of soul than obedience to the ten commandments require, inevitably let the person concerned lapse into arrogance.

According to Luther, the order of creation, on the other hand, provides for marriage for all people, which should protect people from the sins that arise from instinctuality. All people (or at least almost all) are exposed to this instinct, just as the divine mandate to multiply is addressed to all people. The promise of celibacy, on the other hand, was for Luther the prime example of human presumptuousness to do something for the salvation of the soul through one's own willpower and thus to invent “classes” from human discretion that were not actually provided for in God's order of creation.

Hence the great importance that Lutherans attached to their own respect for marriage, although they actually had to bear in mind that even for Catholics who do not belong to the spiritual life , marriage as a secular factor of order was as important as it was for them. Despite this, the Lutheran pastors tirelessly proclaimed that Catholicism despised marriage. Marriage was important for the Protestants' self-image, through which they distinguished themselves from the papacy. For Lutherans, the duty to marry was the consequence of the Lutheran doctrine of justification carried over into everyday practice.

One of the first Reformation writings to take a critical look at celibacy comes from Johann Eberlin von Günzburg . A pamphlet published in Augsburg from the year 1522 has the telling title: How dangerous it is when a priest has no wife! Eberlin attacked celibacy there for biblical and historical reasons and described its public harm. He appealed to the bishops to give up their opposition to priestly marriage.

Luther's interpretation of the 7th chapter of 1st Corinthians - a pamphlet against celibacy (1523)

As early as 1520, Martin Luther demanded in his work To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation that the Christian class should improve and that celibacy should be abolished.

In June 1525, Martin Luther broke religious vows and celibacy promises by marrying the former nun Katharina von Bora and fathering children. In a letter to Georg Spalatin on June 16, 1525, he wrote: “Through this marriage I made myself so contemptible and humble that I hope all angels laugh and all devils cry. The world and its wise do not yet understand this pious and holy work of God and make it godless and diabolical in my person ”.

A day later Luther wrote to Michael Stiefel : “Pray for me that God will bless and sanctify my new state of life. Because the wise men are mightily angry, even among ours. They must realize that marriage is God's work ”.

Among the “ours” was, for example, Philipp Melanchthon , who initially did not understand Luther's break with celibacy and did not approve of it.

Article 23 of the Confessio Augustana of 1530 then bundles the considerations of the Reformation in Article 23 . The confessional text states that the priest is allowed to marry because God's order of creation provides for marriage ( Genesis 1:27  LUT ). Furthermore, it is even his duty to marry if he would otherwise fall into fornication ( 1 Cor 7 : 2,LUT ).

Orthodox churches

In the Orthodox churches , married men are predominantly ordained as deacons and priests, celibacy is the exception. After the ordination he is not allowed to marry a second time if he becomes a widower. As a rule, bishops belong to the monastic class and therefore live celibate. The Orthodox churches differentiate between “white” clergy (married parish priests) and “black” clergy (celibate nuns, monks and bishops).

Reformed churches

The Reformed churches rejected celibacy because it was not prescribed in the Bible. In the 19th century, however, deaconess communities emerged in both Lutheran and Reformed areas and led a celibate life.

Evangelical Free Churches

The church communities, which, like the Mennonites, can be traced back to the radical Reformation Anabaptist movement , know no celibacy. This also applies to Unitarians and later evangelical free churches like the Baptists . In the context of radical Pietism , however, celibate communities developed in the 18th century, such as the Harmony Society in Pennsylvania founded by Johann Georg Rapp , which was close to the inspired , and the Ephrata Cloister community , which emerged from the Anabaptist-Pietist Schwarzenau Brethren . Among the inhabitants of the Ephrata Cloisters, besides Brethren, there were also Mennonites and inhabitants with other denominational backgrounds. The Shakers that emerged from the Quakers should also be mentioned .

Other religions

Ancient religions

An example of sexually abstinent life forms in ancient religions are the priestesses of Vesta . During their thirty years in office, the Vestals had to preserve their virginity . An unchaste vestal virgin was removed from the priesthood and buried alive, her “seducer” whipped to death.


In Buddhism , women are sometimes seen as an obstacle on the monks' path to enlightenment. In Theravada Buddhism and partly also in Tibetan Buddhism, religious regulations determine a celibate life for monks and nuns.


In Hinduism , the brahmacarin live celibacy for twelve years in order to use their pent-up sexual energy in the following second stage of life to produce male offspring. The third stage is also not celibate. In the fourth stage of life towards the end of life, the samnyasin chooses to renounce sexuality in addition to other forms of asceticism in order to prepare for salvation from the cycle of material reincarnations.


The Judaism rejects celibacy from reasons of principle. According to Jewish tradition, love (also physical) is one of the highest gifts from God. Refusing this gift is an offense from the Jewish point of view. Rabbis in all Jewish currents are married and have children.


The Islamic attitude towards a permanent abstinence for religious reasons is complex. Especially because of Muhammad's rejection of monasticism and some verses from the Koran, the existence of a celibate life in Islam is often overlooked for simplicity. Nevertheless, there are a few celibate forms of life in Islam, especially in the context of other ascetic practices . It is reported that the early Sufis Ibrahim ibn Adham and Bāyazīd Bistāmī were celibate. Celibacy was also practiced by holy Sufist women, the best known being Rabia of Basra . According to some Islamic scholars, the context for this practice lies in the desire to cross borders, e.g. B. to achieve some form of gender-neutral purity or to experience a metaphorical death of the body without actually dying physically.

Celibacy and possible social consequences

Voluntary celibacy as a charismatic sign is undisputed in its spiritual significance for the church. In May 2019, in an informal conversation with candidates for the diplomatic service of the Holy See, Pope Francis described priestly celibacy as a precious gift that must be preserved.

Fritz Leist documented the personal and social consequences at the beginning of the 1970s and made the strong, often lifelong negative impact on the clergy as a result of compulsory celibacy.

The alleged link between cases of abuse and celibacy is controversial. The John Jay Study of the Causes of Abuse in Catholic Institutions in the United States found that priestly celibacy had been a constant factor in the Roman Catholic Church since the 11th century and was not the cause of the increase in numbers of abuse cases in the 1970s and 1980s and the subsequent waste. In addition, the increase in cases of abuse in the Roman Catholic Church from the 1950s to the 1970s and the subsequent decline in the number of cases were in line with the overall social developments in cases of abuse. According to the study, however, it also had a positive effect that since 1992 there has been a significantly improved training in celibacy in the seminaries of the United States. It was no longer just celibacy that was expected as an ideal, but rather concrete training units and exchange opportunities for personal development and community life under the condition of celibacy. In combination with an increased sensitivity to the subject of abuse, this improved training also contributes to the currently low level of known cases of abuse.

Hans-Ludwig Kröber , Professor of Forensics, calculated that “men who are non-celibate are 36 times more likely to become abusers than Catholic priests”. His calculation was criticized: The proportion of convicted criminals among celibate men is on average only slightly lower than that among men who are not celibate. The criminologist Christian Pfeiffer from the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony pointed out that the proportion of celibate men among sexual offenders is in the range of 0.1%. With a share of 0.05% of Catholic priests, 15,136 Catholic priests (2010) out of 31 million, of the total male population between 20 and 80 years, this corresponds roughly to the average of the expected acts.

Criminologist Arthur Kreuzer underlined that the structural conditions problematic in relation to abuse within Roman Catholic organizations are the same as in any other institution that works with children. Accordingly, apart from discussions of celibacy, he advocated practical improvements and prevention mechanisms. There is therefore no need to generally defame Catholic schools as “biotopes for pedophiles”. With this, Kreuzner aimed at a statement by Michael Osterheider , head of Regensburg Forensics, who argued primarily with an assumed attractiveness of celibacy for people with paraphilias . Others, such as the psychoanalyst Micha Hilgers or Eugen Drewermann , consider it possible that celibacy has this attractiveness.

The study “Sexual assaults by Catholic clergy in Germany - an analysis of forensic reports 2000–2010” (the so-called Leygraf study ), presented at the end of 2012 and conducted by Norbert Leygraf , director of the Institute for Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Essen-Duisburg, came rather the result that “acts of sexual abuse against minors […] are also committed within the Catholic Church for reasons that can be largely assigned to the normal psychological area and do not arise from a pathological or disturbed psychopathology. One may be critical of celibacy, but a coupling of the debates about sexual abuse by clergy and celibacy lacks any scientific basis. Responsibility for acts of sexual abuse lies with the perpetrators and cannot be transferred to the institution of the 'Catholic Church', as is often the case in current media coverage. ”According to the study,“ there are no empirical findings to prove it could that an intentional or unintentional renunciation of sexuality and / or partnership increases the risk of sexual offenses. "

The theologian and psychiatrist Manfred Lütz points out that the reference to the commandment of celibacy is "not infrequently one of the mendacious apology strategies" of the perpetrators and that one unintentionally conducts the perpetrators' business by naming celibacy as a possible cause.

See also



  • Agoston Roskovány: Coelibatus, et Breviarium. Duo gravissima clericorum officia, e monumentis omnium seculorum demonstrata. Tomus IV. Literatura de coelibatu. Beimel & Kozma, Pest 1861, digitized version , literature from the 1st century AD to 1859
  • Georg Denzler , Heinz-Jürgen Vogels , Hans-Urs Wili (eds.): International Bibliography on Priestly Celibacy (1520–2014). A finding aid for research and discussion (= contributions to theology, church and society in the 20th century, vol. 27). LIT Verlag Berlin / Münster 2015, ISBN 978-3-643-13276-5 (digitized version) .

Individual publications

Web links

Wiktionary: Celibacy  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations

Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church

Celibacy from an evangelical perspective

Celibacy from an Old Catholic perspective

Individual evidence

  1. Bernhard Fraling, Peter Krämer , Stefan Blarer-Ziegler: Celibacy . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 10 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2001, Sp. 1483-1486 .
  2. Catholic priests - without celibacy. In: Christ in the Present. No. 47, 2014, p. 526.
  3. Second Vatican Council: Decree Optatam totius , 10.
  4. CIC, can. 604
  5. Marianne Schlosser: Christ pressius sequendi - The evangelical counsels in the life of the consecrated virgin , S. 47th
  6. CIC, can. 277, § 1.
  7. Manfred Maurer: Priestly marriage with the blessing of Rome, ordination recognized in the Czech Republic. In: Nordbayern.de . March 5, 2009, accessed November 21, 2016 .
  8. Catholic priests - without celibacy. In: Christ in der Gegenwart No. 47/2014, p. 526
  9. Critical to this: Gerd Häfner : Celibacy - an apostolic tradition? (four-part series of articles, March 19 to May 30, 2011)
  10. Alexander Demandt : The late antiquity. 2nd edition 2007 . In: Handbook of Classical Science . Department III, Volume 6: The Late Antiquity. Roman history from Diocletian to Justinian. 284-565 AD Beck, Munich 1989 (1st edition), 2008 (2nd revised edition).
  11. Hans Küng: Christianity - essence and history. Piper, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-492-03747-X .
  12. Celibacy II . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 36, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2004, ISBN 3-11-017842-7 , p. 728.
  13. Otto Weiß: Modernism in Germany: a contribution to the history of theology . Pustet, Regensburg 1995.
  14. ^ Presbyterorum ordinis , no.16
  15. ^ Joseph Lécuyer CSSp: Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Introduction . In: Josef Höfer , Karl Rahner (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 2nd Edition. tape 14 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1968, Sp. 128–140, here p. 140 .
  16. Presbyterorum ordinis , 16
  17. See James H. Charlesworth: The Historical Jesus. An Essential Guide. Abingdon, Nashville 2008, ISBN 978-0-687-02167-3 , pp. 82-84.
    WE Phipps: What Jesus Married? New York 1970.
  18. ^ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata , 1996.
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  21. https://www.zeit.de/2019/07/sexualitaet-kirche-sexueller-missrauch-verdraengung-bernd-deininger/seite-2
  22. CIC can. 1395 §§ 1: “§ 1. A cleric who, besides the one in can. The case mentioned in 1394, who lives in a marriage-like relationship, as well as a cleric who persists in another external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and thereby causes offense, are to be punished with the suspension, which gradually adds other penalties up to discharge from the clergy if the offense continues despite a warning. "
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  27. Joseph Ratzinger, Rudolf Schnackenburg and others: The undersigned to remember: Memorandum for the celibacy discussion. (PDF, 78 kB) February 9, 1970, archived from the original on August 19, 2014 ; accessed on August 19, 2019 .
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  29. Joint Synod of the Dioceses of the Federal Republic of Germany: Resolution: Services and Offices 5.4.6; Representation here after: Walter Kasper : The pastoral services in the community. Introduction to: Joint Synod of the Dioceses of the Federal Republic of Germany. Resolutions of the general assembly. Official Complete Edition I , Freiburg-Basel-Vienna 1976, 590–592
  30. Church and Life: When the Dutch Abolished Celibacy 50 Years ago , December 29, 2019.
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  35. Ignaz Steinwender: Celibacy and the fairy tale of the lack of priests. kath.net , November 1, 2019.
  36. Synodus Episcorum statements XI. Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops 2. – 23. October 2005. In: vatican.va. October 14, 2005, accessed August 19, 2019 . Synodus Episcorum pronouncements XI. Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops 2. – 23. October 2005. In: vatican.va. October 22, 2005, accessed August 19, 2019 . Benedict XVI. : Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. Section No. 24, February 22, 2007, accessed August 19, 2019 .

  37. ↑ kathisch.de : Amazonas Synod votes for married priests in exceptional cases , October 27, 2019.
  38. https://www.domradio.de/themen/bischofssynode/2020-02-12/keine-lockerung-des-zoelibats-oder-weihe-fuer-frauen-papstschreiben-zur-amazonas-synode-vorhaben Papal letter on the Amazon Synod presented - No relaxation of celibacy or consecration for women
  39. https://www.vaticannews.va/de/papst/news/2020-02/exhortation-querida-amazonia-papst-franziskus-synode-wortlaut.html Wording: Querida Amazonia by Pope Francis
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  45. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites , Baltimore 2010, 78
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  47. This is the first stage of life of the ideal-typical life stages asrama .
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