So this week we hear that Austrian Cardinal Chrisoph Schoenborn has come out for a non-celibate clergy, or at least a relaxation of the rule devised at the Second Lateran Council nearly 900 years ago. The first thing you have to accept is that Austria and Germany are similar but not necessarily identical cultures with lots of communication between them, including the communication between Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, and Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn of Austria. Had the "wild" idea come from South America or Portugal or some other place not close culturally to Benedict, then you might easily decide that it was NOT a test balloon being sent up by the Vatican. Schoenborn, on the other hand, can be protected from hostiles better than any, if this idea flops ... and there will be adversaries, intelligent and otherwise.
As James Carroll (and I hitch-hiking on his analysis) have said, nothing could be better timed and more useful to the Church than the elimination of mandatory celibacy. It is the root cause of the sex crimes being perpetrated and then covered up by the existing clergy. It is no longer effective against the accumulation of property by clergy. It no longer makes sense as a tool of power over an illiterate "black clergy" upon whom the Church was dependent for a thousand years. It does not square with the sheep-shepherd view taken of an overwhelmingly illiterate laity. It just does not make sense and it causes problems and provides sustenance to criminals within.
How the Church will read the response to Schoenborn is critical. It will be hotly debated and some will say that the lack of furor indicates assent, while others among the Cardinals will say it indicates ignorance. The fact is that there has been no furor reported so far. It is the sort of issue that must percolate downward to be understood at the highest levels. It will take time, but I am confident that the issue will be resolved correctly. The icing for this cake has been in production for a long, long time. Theological issues are not basic, but Church Rules are. They have to find a way to treat the impending change with intelligence. The paragraph above, the historical reasons for imposing celibacy (which were taken in extremis, by the way) are sufficient as answers to the question of Authority, which is, of course, the paramount issue to Benedict and his Cardinals.