March 8, 2017; National Catholic Register
As NPQ has observed in its coverage of Pope Francis, he tends to be far more careful and incremental in his statements and interviews than the media often give him credit for. The latest examples of this are reports of an interview he gave to the left-leaning German newspaper Die Zeit. In the long and wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis made news when he expressed a willingness to consider the option of the Catholic Church “ordaining some married men as priests” as a response to the “enormous problem” of a worldwide shortage of Catholic men to serve.
Let’s talk first about what this statement doesn’t mean. There are no proposals to allow priests to marry. Voluntary celibacy is the predominant path to the Catholic priesthood and is envisioned to remain so; “optional celibacy is not the solution,” according to Pope Francis. This belief reflects his response to a bishop’s question last year when he said, “Priestly celibacy remains as it is.”
Secondly, there are already married Catholic priests. There is a path for non-Catholic married men who become Catholic to become priests—some former Anglican clergy are a key example. The NCR article explains: “The Eastern Catholic Churches allow the ordination of married men as priests but like the Orthodox and Latin Catholic churches, they do not allow clerical marriage; that is, priests to marry once ordained.” In the interview, Pope Francis expressed openness to the “possibility” of “viri probati, married men proven in faith and virtue who could be ordained to the priesthood.”
Even the pope’s modest forays into the issue have encountered resistance from Catholic bishops. He wanted the next synod to discuss celibacy for priests, but the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops voted it down. “Asked by LifeSiteNews after a press conference at the Vatican about the possibility of priestly celibacy and a women’s deaconate being on the agenda in 2018, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri [secretary for the Synod of Bishops] responded abruptly, ‘No.’” The topic would seen germane to the theme of the 2018 Synod: “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
The pope’s well-known humility was displayed in the interview when he said, “I am a sinner and I am fallible.” He ended the interview with an apology: “I am sorry if I haven’t met your expectations…Pray for me!”—Michael Wyland