WASHINGTON –– More than 140 Catholic theologians from universities in Austria, Germany and Switzerland called for the church to end priestly celibacy, ordain women and allow laypeople to help select bishops, among other changes.

The 143 professors said their appeal Feb. 4 was made in response to the clergy sexual abuse scandals that surfaced in Europe in 2010 and that they no longer could remain silent in the face of what they say is a lingering crisis within the Catholic Church.

The theologians, who also called for the church to welcome same-sex couples and divorced and remarried couples, said their statement was issued to open a discussion about the future of the church.

“We have the responsibility to contribute to a new start,” the statement said.

“It looks like we struck a nerve,” said Judith Konemann, a professor from Munster and one of the signatories, reported the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Most of the changes sought by the theologians have no chance of being adopted since the church considers them nondebatable issues. The church teaches that it has no right to ordain women to the priesthood, and it teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage, understood to be between a woman and a man only, is sinful.

Regarding divorce and remarriage, in the Catholic Church civil, divorce doesn’t exclude one from the sacraments. A person cannot receive the sacraments if he or she remarries outside the church while still bound by a previous marriage.

The German Bishops’ Conference said it would discuss the proposals at a mid-March meeting. Pope Benedict XVI will visit his native Germany Sept. 22-25.

The theologians’ appeal comes two weeks after a group of prominent German politicians urged the bishops to ordain older married men because of the dwindling number of priests.

The German bishops have said two-thirds of all parishes will not have their own priest by 2020 and have embarked on an effort to merge parishes in response.

Enacting the reforms the theologians outlined would attract people back to the church, the statement said.

“The church needs married priests and women in church ministry,” the theologians said. The church should not “shut out people who live in love, loyalty and mutual support as same-sex couples or remarried divorced people,” they said.

The professors also questioned actions by Pope Benedict that have brought back older worship practices. “The liturgy must not be frozen in traditionalism,” they said.