In an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, Pope Francis has said that he is open to married men becoming priests. The lack of Catholic priests is a giant problem for the Church, to which Pope Francis mentioned openness governing eligibility for the priesthood.
“We need to consider if ‘viri probati’ (married men of outstanding faith) could be a possibility,” he said. “If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities.”
For centuries, the church required that priests must be unmarried and celibate in order to fully dedicate themselves to serving God.
The celibacy rule is explained in the Church’s Code of Canon Law. While the Catholic Church already allows some married men to be ordained priests, this new option would allow all men who are already married to be ordained.
While Pope Francis acknowledged the idea of allowing faithful married men to become priests, he also emphasized that men who are already priests would not be allowed to marry, according to CNN. A single man who is already a priest would have to remain celibate and would not have the choice to wed later.
Latin American churches, especially in Brazil, face challenges in response to the comments made by the Pope. The Associated Press reported that Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a longtime friend of Francis, promoted ‘viri probati.’ Hummes reported the phrase in order to potentially alleviate the shortage of priests within the country. Right now, the country has one priest to every 10,000 Catholics.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there are about 2,500 Catholics per priest in the United States, compared with 851 per priest in 1972.
Pope Francis’s comments brought more attention to the issue of celibacy, which isn’t a new discussion within the community. Previous popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both believed that priests needed to remain celibate. However, the celibacy rule has been challenged by clergy members and priests for decades, and many have argued that faithful married men should indeed be allowed to be ordained into the Church.
“For many older, traditional Catholics, this is obviously an outrage because of the traditionalistic values the Catholic Church has. However, I think it’s actually good,” Junior Journalism major Noe Sotelo said. “As a Catholic born in the millennial era this is a movement towards the modern times we’re living in. It’s good to expand from the traditional values and be open to the times we’re living in currently.”
Eastern Catholic churches allow the tradition of married priests where Protestant married priests who convert to Catholicism are permitted to stay married as priests as long as they obtain their wife’s permission.
The Pope’s comments don’t immediately affect the Catholic Church in terms of major changes. He affirmed that celibacy is still an importation tradition, but suggested this potential solution only to show that he’s open to looking into exceptions.
His Argentinian background and experience with the issue firsthand in Latin American churches may play into the fact that he is keenly aware of the effects of the major priest shortage within the Church.
Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America spoke to The Atlantic about Pope Francis’s comments in a recent interview.
“You’re looking into a number of difficulties that need to be studied first before it’s a done deal,” Martens said, “Just saying that you’re open to discussion doesn’t mean that you’ve caused a revolution… Remember the ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment [on homosexuality]? Everyone thought he was changing Church teaching. But he was just paraphrasing in his own words the Church teaching.”
There is also the fact that married men can already serve in multiple roles within the Church. For about the past five decades, they were allowed to serve as deacons or leaders who preach, conduct weddings and funerals and perform baptisms.
Pope Francis has frequently commented that he is open to looking into studying new forms of leadership in the church, which also included the possibility of women deacons.
“Whether men are married or not shouldn’t be a factor for their walk of faith. No man is perfect in every way,” Sotelo said. “The fact that we have a pope who is open to this is amazing and great progress which will hopefully attract more people to the faith.”