Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, conservative Archbishop of Vienna and an ordinary to Austria's Eastern Rite Catholics, said this question should be considered as part of an “unflinching examination” of the possible causes of the scandal.
From The Times:
These included “the issue of priests’ training”, he wrote in his archdiocese magazine, “the question of priest celibacy and the question of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the Church and of society as a whole”.
But, according to the Vatican, Schönborn's intent was not to directly challenge the church's current teaching on celibacy:
The Vatican said the remarks had been misinterpreted. “Priestly celibacy is a gift of the Holy Spirit,” Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, said at a theological convention on priestly fidelity.
Cardinal Schönborn’s spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, issued a clarification later claiming that the cardinal was not “in any way seeking to question the Catholic Church’s celibacy rule”. Sources in Rome said he had been obliged to issue his “clarification” under pressure from the Holy See.
This isn't the first time the Cardinal has attempted to open discussion on the issue.
Last year in Rome, Cardinal Schönborn, who has always been close to the Pope, presented a petition signed by leading Austrian lay Catholics calling for the abolition of the requirement for priestly celibacy.
Cardinal Schönborn told Vatican Radio last year that he did not agree with the petition’s conclusions, which also included a demand for women deacons, but added: “It is important for someone in Rome to know what some of our lay people are thinking about the problems of the Church.”
But to use Schönborn's comments to fuel an argument about priestly celibacy distracts from the larger intent of his statement: The Church cannot prevent further abuse if it does not understand why such devastating acts have occurred. In this context, a refusal to closely examine any aspect of the priesthood is to neglect the need to search for a deeper understanding of why these abuses happened and whether some aspects of the priests' way of life may have enabled these abuses. In addition, Schönborn's willingness to listen and learn from laypeople and to present his findings to Rome sends an encouraging message to lay Catholics who hope their concerns, on any issue, will be heard by the heirarchy. A better understanding of these concerns can only help the Vatican in its efforts to find meaningful and relevant ways to minister to the diverse crowd of believers who, together, form the church.