Pope Francis has said that he will not abolish celibacy – although he is considering relaxing the rules in order to tackle the problem of a shortage of priests.
He said that in remote areas where there are not enough priests to serve the parishes he may agree to ordaining older married men.
The idea – known as ‘Viri Probati’ – would allow elderly married men to become priests, as long as they are considered outstanding members of their local Catholic community and have displayed sufficient seriousness and maturity.
This would only be considered in ‘exceptional circumstances’ as the 82-year-old maintains that celibacy is a ‘gift to the church’.
Many people believe that making celibacy optional would attract more men to become priests – and could also lower the risk of sexual abuse.
However, those who oppose the idea say that celibacy is essential to ensure that priests remain fully dedicated to the Church.
Pope Francis said: “Personally I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church, and secondly, I don’t think optional celibacy should be allowed, no.
“But I think the question should be open in places where there is a pastoral necessity because of a lack of priests.
“I’m not saying that we have to do it, because I have not reflected and prayed about this sufficiently. This is something being discussed by theologians, it’s not my decision.”
Places such as Polynesia and the Amazon are isolated and are areas that the Pope would be open to the idea of ordaining married priests as there is a ‘pastoral necessity’.
Celibacy is not actually a formal doctrine of Catholicism and has only been enforced since the 12th century.
Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling