Pope Francis Expresses Openness to Ordaining Married Men in Some Cases








Edward Pentin at the National Catholic Register:

8th March, 2017

In his first ever interview with a German newspaper, Pope Francis has said the issue of ordaining some married men as priests needs to be considered, but stressed that “voluntary celibacy” is not the solution to the vocations crisis that exists in many parts of the world.

Speaking in the interview to be published tomorrow (March 9) in Die Zeit, Germany’s leading left-leaning newspaper, the Holy Father said the shortage of priests around the world is an “enormous problem” that must be resolved, but added that “voluntary celibacy is not the answer.”

However, he said the issue of viri probati, married men proven in faith and virtue who could be ordained to the priesthood, is a “possibility” that “we have to think about.”

“We must also determine which tasks they can undertake, for example in remote communities,” the Pope said.

The Latin rite already allows some married non-Catholic clergymen who become Catholics to be ordained priests, such as former Anglican clergy. 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.

Last year, Pope Francis ruled out moving away from priestly celibacy, saying it should “remain as it is.” But he has mentioned the possibility of ordaining “proven” married men before, reportedly saying privately in 2014 it could be left for bishops to decide, depending on the situation. He referred to a diocese in Mexico where each community had a deacon but no priest.

The Pope is also understood to have wanted the next synod to discuss priestly celibacy, although it was voted down by the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops. The secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, further ruled out the possibility of the issue being discussed at the 2018 Synod on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

In a short summary of the interview, Die Zeit reported that the Pope stressed the importance of prayer to overcome the vocations crisis. “That is what is missing: prayer,” Francis said, adding that young people are yearning for guidance.

According to the newspaper, “multiple voices” in Germany have recently been questioning mandatory priestly celibacy. They have included Bishop Dieter Geerlings, auxiliary of Münster, and Thomas Sternberg, the head of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a body comprising various Catholic lay organizations in Germany. Sternberg said mandatory celibacy had “lost its plausibility.”

Some of the Pope’s advisors and friends have also hinted at, or clearly advocated, changes in the priestly celibacy rule over the years. They include respectively Cardinal Pietro Parolin, now the Vatican Secretary of State, and Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a friend of the Pope and former prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.

Changes to allow some form of married priesthood, intercommunion and possibly the advent of women deacons are three reforms some Church watchers expect to see in the coming months. They are concerned that, as with admitting some remarried divorcees to the sacraments, exceptions will be made to each of these that will ultimately end such disciplines as priestly celibacy and generally undermine the Church’s doctrine on the priesthood and the Eucharist.

But the Pope argues in the interview that the Church should be “fearless” in confronting change. “Truth means not to be afraid,” he said. “Fears close doors, freedom opens them. And if freedom is small, it at least opens a little window.”

In the interview, the Pope also discusses Cardinal Raymond Burke, saying he does not consider him an “adversary” but an “excellent lawyer”, and that he was grateful to him for travelling to Guam to deal with the “terrible” abuse case there last month.

The Holy Father also says that, as Pope, he does not consider himself as “anything special”. “I am a sinner and am fallible,” he says, adding that he believes the idealization of a person is a “subliminal form of aggression.”

“If I am idealized, I feel attacked,” the Pope says. He also decries populism, calling it an “evil” means of using people that “ends badly.”

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16 Responses to Pope Francis Expresses Openness to Ordaining Married Men in Some Cases

  1. Michael says:

    “Changes to allow some form of married priesthood, intercommunion and possibly the advent of women deacons are three reforms some Church watchers expect to see in the coming months. They are concerned that, as with admitting some remarried divorcees to the sacraments, exceptions will be made to each of these that will ultimately end such disciplines as priestly celibacy and generally undermine the Church’s doctrine on the priesthood and the Eucharist.”

    I am with the Pope on this one in principle except for the intercommunion. As long as priests abide by the requirement to be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven” it doesn’t matter whether their sexual continence is within marriage or whether they are single and celibate. The single celibate requirement is just a disciplinary rule that was introduced after centuries of married priests violating the continence requirement. I don’t see any reason to think that this is a time when we can expect a higher level of virtue and can trust married men to perform better than they did in the past but that is the Pope’s call to determine. Also I have no problem with the idea of women deacons. Christian women assisted the clergy in apostolic times. They had the title ‘Deaconess” at one time. There is no reason that they need to be called nuns as they have for some time now. We can revert to the title Deaconess without issue.


  2. ebinn says:

    Another thin edge. Little by little we fall, degrade, demean and finally accept. History is full of such deviance. Where are the prayers for such a departure, by the Pope to the faithful, to pray for Gods’ enlightenment on such vital matters. Convenience is surrender against Church trials.


  3. Loretta says:

    For the priest their model is Christ. Christ was not married. Being a priest is a sacrifice. It’s a cross. And a very beautiful one at that.


  4. Cassie says:

    Priests were allowed to be married for about 1,000 years before the rule was changed, and the change had more to do with money than anything else. While I don’t think it would solve the vocations crisis to allow married priests, it’s important for us to remember the difference between Tradition (big T) and tradition (little t). Tradition is set in stone and can’t be changed, while traditions can. So it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it changed. It’s not the same situation as allowing those in adultery to receive communion, which would be a violation of Tradition.

    Having said that, allowing married priests won’t fix the vocations crisis. Look at the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska (USA). They are very traditional with lots of traditional Latin masses, don’t water down the faith the way so many others do. And they are pumping out vocations like crazy. When you give young people something worth fighting for, you’ll get vocations.


  5. Mary Salmond says:

    Acceptance of married men is walking a tight rope. We as church should not be so desperate to do this, but I’m inclined to think that a special vetting process could work and get some special cases of married men. Some other criteria besides what’s already in place could be possible. For example, men over 50 with older children, men who have been active and devout in their parish, men in remote locations who need a priest present in the area, men whose wife is very supportive and will be a team member, etc. However, there should not be a panic, the younger set of seminarians are good, conservative, and more plentiful than in 70, 80,90s. It is an option till we hear differently!


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    Potential problems:
    1. Ministers get divorced. We must expect priests’ wives (and priests) to want them too.
    2. Married priests will have conflicting loyalties in terms of needing attention (children need lots of attention right through to adulthood).
    3. Married priests, especially those with children, will need far more income than unmarried ones; and it’s not silly to imagine priests forming unions for better pay, pensions, working hours, etc.
    4. Some wives of priests (who can say how many) will begrudge the duties and obligations imposed upon them as such, on the grounds that they married the man, not the job.
    5. On the other hand, some wives of priests are bound to be Mrs. Proudie types.
    6. Universal acceptance of married priests will, without a doubt, increase agitation for acceptance of female ones, openly homosexual ones and transsexual ones. The argument that clerical celibacy is a discipline, not doctrine, but that sex and orientation are doctrinal, will no longer cut much ice.
    7. If young, devout, heterosexual Catholic men are offered both priestly ordination and marriage, there are bound to be those who prefer to give themselves to God alone, but who will be suspected homosexuals if they remain unmarried (unmarried people often are) which will pressurize them to marry for the wrong reasons.
    8. And then we have the inevitable: married priests and their wives who practice birth control.
    There is also what I see as a sacramental problem(s), which I won’t get into for fear of displaying my relative ignorance in discussing them.


  7. toadspittle says:

    I agree with Michael.
    There was no Mass on Sunday in my Spanish village because our priest is ill. He’s old and shaky. When he’s dead, it seems very likely the Church will be shut up, for a while, at least – maybe permanently.
    I personally would prefer it kept open, and served by anyone qualified.
    [Moderator: One line deleted.]
    No good saying it must be a celibate male priest. They are very few, and a dying breed.
    And the handtul that still exist are not going to be sent to villages with an average congregation of 20


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    You’ve had kind words to say about your village priest more than once, Toad.

    In the foreseeable future, true Catholics may end up as a Remnant who are served by true priests only sporadically. It’s happened before (nb: the Recusants) and still does, such as in our Far North amongst other places (China, the Middle East) for various reasons. But better few real priests than any fake ones. I am not necessarily calling married priests fake, but if they become common, I don’t think it will be for the best.


  9. GC says:

    Perhaps, Toad, your bish could contact the Church authorities in Korea. They seem only too willing to lend a hand.

    South Korea wants to share its priests with the world


  10. toadspittle says:

    A South Korean priest would feel right at home here, GC. His countryfolk trudge through Moratinos in great numbers. Though none of them seem to have one word of Spanish – very often no English, either.

    Yes, JH – the priest is a great pal of mine. And a more liberal one can scarcely be imagined. We had, unusually, two small children at Mass recently. At the Sign of Peace, Don Santiago nipped into the vestry, and came out with a small bag of sweets for each of them.
    He also goes round the entire congregation (about 18 of us) and shakes all our hands. And he asks us if we’d like to hear a sermon or not. We always say yes.


  11. Michael says:


    I don’t believe the narrative that the change was mainly due to money. There were piecemeal rules introduced through Christendom prior to that trying to stop married men from failing to be “Eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”. It is clear that priests weren’t all complying with the requirements of their office and that was an obvious solution. The money thing is obtuse to the Bible and the history and makes it sound like concerns about complying with Jesus’ words were really concerns about money being lost to heirs. It sounds like an attempt to portray the Church as greedy rather than Holy.


  12. johnhenrycn says:

    Michael, are you one and the same Michael who stopped commenting here a year or two ago? You sound much the same (knowledgeable) as he. His avatar was bespoke, unlike yours or mine.


  13. johnhenrycn says:

    Toad (06:02) – Our pastor is Vietnamese, one of the “boat people” escapees from Vietnam back in the 70s. Speaks perfect English, except for an annoying verbal tic at the end of his reading when he says: “The Gossssssssspel of the Lord.” Someday, after we’ve had a few glasses of wine together, I might summon the courage to joke with him about it.


  14. kathleen says:

    A great many Catholic blogs and newspapers appear to have picked up on this interview of Pope Francis with Die Zeit, but what very few have mentioned is that there is no real “priest shortage” at all. What there is instead is a bad distribution of priests, and in many parts of the world, a lack of seminaries!

    I receive the ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ (ACN) monthly newsletter that dedicates a large percentage of its funds to building seminaries and priestly training – for as is well known, financing a priest through his approximate six years of seminary is a costly business – and yet even then ACN describes how many fine priestly candidates are told to either wait a year or two, or sadly have to be turned away for the current insurmountable problem of the lack of space for them! To all of us who hail from Western nations where vocations to the priesthood have fallen dramatically, this is startling news. It prompts many Catholics to direct their donations to ACN for this cause.

    As for ordaining married men to the priesthood (and whilst recognising that the rule of priestly celibacy in the Latin Church is a discipline and not a dogma of the Church) I still think it would be a great loss and a sad day for the Catholic Church were it ever to happen.
    There is a unique quality of self-sacrificing holiness in a man who would willingly choose to give up everything and all the comforts a family offers, to follow in the footsteps of Christ for the building of the “Kingdom of God”. Over the years I have heard many priests say (my priest uncle included) that it would be impossible for them to do the work they were doing if they’d had a wife and kiddies in tow!

    The scholarly Father Hunwicke (a married priest who converted to the Catholic Church from the Anglicanism) wrote an interesting article entitled “Married Priests?” that throws in a few more thoughts on the subject.


  15. kathleen says:

    JH, your list of “Potential problems” with switching to allowing married men into the priesthood (@ 18:40 on 9th March) was very helpful. Your number 7 was certainly a good one and that had never occurred to me before, but might well be something that could deter a fine young normal man considering his vocation to celibacy as preferable for the priesthood.

    P.S. No, the Michael above does not appear to be the same Michael (Kenny) who once commented here.


  16. toadspittle says:

    The main “Potential problem” with single priests is, of course, homosexuality – only potentially, of course.


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