Pope Francis has opened the possibility of ordaining married men to serve as priests in the Catholic church.
In an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper published this week, the Pontiff said the church should study whether ‘viri probati’ or married men of proven faith – could be ordained to fill the gap left by the shortage of priests around the world. He described it as an “enormous problem” that must be resolved.
“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities,” he was quoted as saying.
he, however, stressed that removing the celibacy rule mandated to priests is not an answer to the priest shortage.
The Latin rite already allows some married non-Catholic clergymen who become Catholics to be ordained.
Clerical marriage, meaning priests who marry once ordained, is not allowed by the church. It is unclear if Francis would issue a decree to allow “viri probati” throughout the church.
The “viri probati” proposal has been around for decades, but it has drawn renewed attention under the church’s first Latin American pope.
Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a longtime friend of Francis and former head of the Vatican’s office for clergy, is reportedly pressing to allow viri probati in the Amazon, where the church counts around one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.
Francis has shown particular openness to receiving concrete proposals for ordaining married men, reportedly saying in private in 2014 that it could be left for bishops to decide depending on the situation, The Register reported.
Francis also has shown his own pastoral concern for men who have left ministry to marry.
He has maintained friendship with the Argentine widow of a friend who left the priesthood to marry, and he spent one of his Friday mercy missions last year visiting with men who had left ministry to start families.
He also has said that while he favors a celibate priesthood, celibacy technically can be up for discussion since it’s a discipline of the church, not a dogma.