MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Kyle James reports that calls are going out for the church to rethink some of its basic principles. That includes the requirement that priests remain celibate.
GERHARD STREICHER: (Speaking foreign language)
KYLE JAMES: Gerhard Streicher is a psychologist in the town of Jena, south of Berlin. Today he's wearing a comfortable sweater. But he used to wear a white collar to work. Gerhard Streicher was a priest until, that is, he told his bishop about the seven-year relationship he'd been having with a woman, the woman who is now his wife.
STREICHER: (Through translation) It made me a better priest. I understand people and their lives better. But celibacy was a big contradiction. The thing that actually made me a good priest pushed me to the margins of the church.
JAMES: Theologians and even well-known conservative Catholic politicians, like Hermann Kues, are asking the church to rethink celibacy, especially since it's not a doctrinal requirement.
HERMANN KUES: (Through translation) The church doesn't change very quickly, and we know that, but we think we've come to a point where we have to demand it. Celibacy rules were originally introduced on practical grounds, and so I think that they can be changed for practical reasons, as well.
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JAMES: Andreas Schmidt attends mass at St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin.
ANDREAS SCHMIDT: Celibacy should be the liberty of every priest, and they should be able to decide. But I think it's very good that the discussion has started and begun. And I hope it's not stopped by the head of the church.
JAMES: Still, Vatican reporter Francis Rocca of Religion News Service says celibacy for most priests is not likely to be phased out.
FRANCIS ROCCA: No, not in our lifetimes and in any major way. I think that would be a fair prediction. The pope, and I'm sure the overwhelming number of cardinals and bishops, see celibacy as a very important part of Catholic identity.
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JAMES: Back in Jena, that's an identity that former priest Gerhard Streicher says he's glad he left behind, although he still does go to church, and his children were baptized.
STREICHER: (Through translation) The church is like a mother to me, and I have a lot to thank her for. But I don't do everything my mother says. At some point, I grew up.
JAMES: For NPR News, I'm Kyle James.
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