He said he could not see why men who feel called to the priesthood should be forced to remain celibate. Asceticism, which religious feel called to, is a charism that could not be forced on people, Winkler said.
He said compulsory celibacy was not introduced for several hundred years and for diverse reasons, one of which was to prevent imperial dynasties from inheriting church possessions.
Asked what would happen if priests who got married were to get divorced, Winkler said that there were many priests who failed to remain celibate. Failure was always possible. "Jesus came to the broken and not to the perfect," he said.
Did that mean that one could marry twice? he was asked.The Orthodox church has found a good solution, he said: It has married priests, and under certain conditions, allows remarriage in church after divorce. According to present Catholic teaching, partners of a second marriage live in permanent sin. "I think that [is] really wrong and this question will be a gripping crunchpoint at the synod in October," Winkler said. "Discussion of marriage theology is a must."
The issue of women priests is "theologically complicated," he said, but women deacons, "which [are] well documented up to the Middle Ages," should be reintroduced as soon as possible. Winkler, 52, a well-known patrologist and orientalist, was appointed an adviser to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity by Pope Benedict XVI and confirmed in this office by Pope Francis. He is also an adviser to Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is the Austrian correspondent for the London Catholic weekly The Tablet.]