Pope Francis Says ‘No’ Then ‘Maybe’ to Married Priests

By Edward Pentin

Pope Francis speaking to reporters on the papal plane from Panama, Jan. 27, 2019. (Mercedes De La Torre/CNA)

On the papal plane back from Panama, the Holy Father said he is personally opposed, but then recommended the radical ideas of a missionary bishop who supports ordaining untrained older married men of proven virtue.

During his inflight press conference from Panama, Pope Francis gave conflicting signals about the ordination of married men in the Latin rite, on the one hand sayinghe was personally opposed to it while at the same time open to considering possible radical exceptions.

His comments come as an upcoming synod on the Amazon in October is expected to debate the possibility of ordaining married men in order to alleviate priest shortages — a move that some observers say is a means of allowing married priests universally through the back door.

Central to the Pope’s comments were his references to missionary Bishop Fritz Lobinger, emeritus of Aliwal, South Africa, known to be a pioneer of the idea of viri probati — the ordination of older married men of proven virtue.

Although the Pope reiterated several times during the press conference that he could not see himself ordaining married men, he made it clear that it was “something to study, think, rethink, and pray about.”

Referring to areas suffering shortages of priests, he said “some possibility” exists for married clergy in “very far places,” adding that when there is a “pastoral necessity, the pastor should think of the faithful.”

But it was his emphasis on Bishop Lobinger’s ideas, contained in his 1998 book Like his Brothers and Sisters — Ordaining Community Leaders, that drew most attention. The Pope described the book as “interesting” and warranting further study.

A native of Regensburg, Germany, 90-year-old Bishop Lobinger has long championed his proposal to ordain community elders, or a “team of elders,” who would carry out a special ministry. These men, selected from their communities, could be married and not have attended seminary. The theory, Bishop Lobinger says, is based on the early Church.

In a 2010 article in US Catholic, he outlined his proposal and firmly advocated the ordination of married men, saying if the Church “continues to admit only celibate, university-trained candidates to ordination, there will be no hope of ever overcoming the scarcity of the sacraments.”

He claimed hundreds of bishops agreed with his radical proposal while acknowledging that hundreds of others did not, fearing that it “might solve one problem” only to then create “bigger ones.” But in common with the Pope, he called for a greater discussion of the issue so that “it will become more apparent that certain proposals will not work while others will.”

He also predicted pressure to ordain women would increase if his proposal were accepted: “Because the majority of proven local leaders are women, it is unavoidable that the question of their inclusion among ordained elders will arise, though present Church law does not permit it,” he said.

 

Cardinal Marx Recommendation

The Pope’s reference to Bishop Lobinger comes as little surprise as Cardinal Reinhard Marx recommended he read the retired bishop’s works when the German bishops were on their ad limina visit in 2015.

It also comes after various statements in recent years advocating possible changes to allow married clergy, notably from Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella.

Bishop Lobinger’s theories are also backed by Bishop Erwin Kräutler, whom Francis appointed last March to a pre-synodal council which is preparing the Pan-Amazonian synod in October.

Bishop Kräutler, an Austrian missionary who ministered in the Brazilian rain forest from 1981-2015, has openly said finding ways to address the priest shortage will be one of the main topics of the upcoming synod. As a result, he believes the synod will lead to the ordination of married men to the priesthood and women to the permanent diaconate.

In an interview with the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress soon after the announcement of the synod in December 2017, he said: “Perhaps even Bishop Fritz Lobinger’s suggestion will be taken up.”

In his comments to reporters, the Pope said Bishop Lobinger’s book “could help to think about the problem” and that “the theology should be studied.”

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6 Responses to Pope Francis Says ‘No’ Then ‘Maybe’ to Married Priests

  1. Robert John Bennett says:

    “The possibility of ordaining married men in order to alleviate priest shortages”? Sure, and then watch people continue to leave the Church in even larger numbers, creating an even more serious “priest shortage.”

    In the end, only a small remnant of faithful Catholics will be left.

    “From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge….She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.” – Father Joseph Ratzinger, in 1969. https://bit.ly/2MEYYaA

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  2. Crow says:

    It is as though anything this pope says is meaningless- he just says what suits the next step on his agenda, whatever is convenient for the moment. Excuse my cynicism, but when I read that the pope will not do some action because he has said some platitude regarding that particular situation, I just eye-roll. The agenda of this Pope is the St Gallen group and the others who are involved in all the “reforming “ of the Church. They will say whatever suits them because they are so compromised the truth is just a tool to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kathleen says:

    Excellent comment Crow, very insightful. Your last sentence in particular just says it all. It’s meaningless blabber; nothing, absolutely nothing, PF says – no, not even the once-in-a-while seemingly okay remark – can be taken seriously. Tomorrow he’ll say something that totally contradicts what he said the day before.

    But quite honestly, how could good fruit ever come out from a plot by a gang of manipulative, power-hungry, unholy socialists (the St Gallen mafia) who broke all the rules to get ‘their man’ on the Chair of Saint Peter?

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  4. John says:

    While there is nothing inherently illicit about the approach there is a need to discern the motivation of the proponents. Either they are being up front or it is the thin edge of the wedge for opening the doors to sexually active married priests. If the proponents themselves want the latter then what hope is there of the proposal upholding Catholic tradition?

    If they were up front about the proposal then you would think that they would frame it in terms of a situation where these older men have had time to prove their virtue and are likely to already be sexually continent or are more likely to be able to adapt to sexual continence than younger married men. If celibacy is not a norm for older married men of virtue and we revert to the preexisting standards then that should be a part of the conversation. At the very least (and I believe it is more than this) there is a long history of priests being eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. When celibacy was introduced as a norm it was a punishable offence for a married priest to have sex with his wife. Much earlier optimism was relied upon whereby Christians boasted that Greek cultic priests needed hemlock to avoid sex but Christian priests just achieved it using the power of the Word of God. However after many mishaps there were the regulations throughout the Church prohibiting priests from knowing their wives and then in 1139 it settled on celibacy as a disciplinary norm.

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  5. Tom Fisher says:

    nothing, absolutely nothing, PF says – no, not even the once-in-a-while seemingly okay remark – can be taken seriously. Tomorrow he’ll say something that totally contradicts what he said the day before

    You’re right Kathleen, he has tried to be all things to all men, and the result has been incoherent. Note that when St Paul was ‘all things to all men’ it was fundamentally different, because it was rooted in what was necessary to their salvation

    I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings

    Liked by 1 person

  6. JabbaPapa says:

    Any examination of this historically complicated question that fails to start at the natural beginning of considering potential dispensations of celibacy for married deacons (viri probati pretty much by definition) in view of priestly ordination is a non starter.

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