German catholic priest Stefan Hartmann has asked the Pope to release him from his oath of celibacy after admitting to having an illegitimate daughter on national television. He posted a copy of his open letter to the Vatican on his Facebook page, requesting release, “in acknowledgement of my weaknesses and failures, with all due humility and after long consideration of my conscience and personal situation.”
Hartmann, who is 59 years old, claims his seniors asked him to rescind his own ordination after he revealed on a television talk show in January that he had secretly fathered a daughter in 1989, eight years after vowing celibacy at Trier Cathedral. However, Hartmann wants to leave the oath behind and continue serving his parish located in north Bavaria.
“I still feel it is my calling to be a Catholic priest, a pastor and a theologian,” said Hartmann.
In his foreword to the open letter, Hartmann said if Pope Francis were to accept his request, he would set precedent for Catholic priests to remain ordained outside of celibacy vows thus bringing solutions and relief to many.
“There is a human right to partnership, marriage and parenthood, even if you can forego it willingly for religious reasons,” he wrote.
He added that a positive response from the Pope would increase faltering numbers of young Catholics training for ordination and allow many ministers to resume priesthood, especially those that have been made to exit the church under similar circumstances. Hartmann regretted being unable to maintain a relationship with the mother of his child and having to keep his affair a secret, only so he could protect his career.
“After that I tried to walk the road of celibacy again, but since 2007 I have realized more and more that I am just not up to it… I have known for some years now that the oath I took after just two and a half years of seminary training was too rushed, and did not reflect the constitution of my character,” he said.
Hartmann said he has no marriage plans yet, but the request was “above all to allow me to go into a marital partnership into which my daughter can be integrated as part of a family.”
The Pope has not made a move to release priests from celibacy to date but according to Vatican expert Andreas Englisch, this is among the many changes that Francis has been hoping to incorporate over the coming years. Pope Francis replaced Benedict XVI after the latter resigned in February 2013 and he has the reputation of being a progressive leader.