MOSCOW–Pope Francis said in an interview Thursday that the Roman Catholic Church should consider tackling its worldwide priest shortage by ordaining married men.
But loosening one of the Church’s stringent rules in a few cases could help the venerable institution come through this personnel crisis. Changing custom just a bit could allow married men who are already committed Catholics to work in rural areas where priests are in short supply.
“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility,” Francis told German newspaper Die Zeit, using the Latin phrase for men deeply involved in and demonstrably devoted to the church.
“If so, we would need to determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities.”
Over the course of his four-year papacy, the pontiff has continually demonstrated greater flexibility towards some of the Church’s thorniest modern problems. But circumstantial admission of married men as priests would be a radical departure from current Vatican teaching, and would be certain to meet strong objections from ardent conservatives.
But Francis, who referred to the vocation crisis an “enormous problem,” has noted that celibacy is not a doctrine or dogma but part of the discipline that allows a priest to dedicate himself to God and to service of the church.
He also pointed out that an element of married clergy already exists in the church, including married Anglican ministers who defected to Rome and are allowed maintain their ministries, some Coptic Catholics and members of some Eastern rite Catholic churches.
The pope so far has not been willing to entertain the possibility of ordaining women or gay men as priests to bolster the dwindling priesthood, however.