Will Pope Francis Allow Married Men to Become Priests?

Source: The Atlantic

By EMMA GREEN

In an interview with the German magazine Die Zeit this week, Pope Francis spoke about the Roman Catholic Church’s priest shortage, which has left Catholics in many rural areas without a clerical leader. The interviewer asked whether viri probati, or married men with a proven fidelity to the Church, might be able to join the priesthood. “We must think, yes, viri probati are a possibility,” said Francis, according to a translation published by the Catholic News Agency. “But then we must also consider what tasks they could perform, for example in isolated communities.”

The pope’s comments are not a sign that major changes are coming to the Catholic Church. He affirmed that celibacy is still an important tradition, and suggested only that he’s open to the possibility of studying exceptions. But his comments do show that he’s keenly aware of the effects of the major priest shortage in the Church. His Argentinian background may be one reason why he’s focused on this issue; the problem is particularly acute in Latin America.

Should the pope decide to change the celibacy tradition, that would come with significant challenges. “Someone who is preparing for the priesthood now has about a six-year training before him. How will he do that with other men who have … a family?” said Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America. “You’re looking into a number of difficulties that need to be studied first before it’s a done deal. Just saying that you’re open to discussion doesn’t mean that you’ve caused a revolution.”

 

While Francis’s comments might seem like a sign that he’s further liberalizing the traditions of the Church, Martens said this was “absolutely not” the case. “I’m surprised that after four years of Pope Francis, we are not used to what he says and how to read what he says,” Martens said. “Remember the ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment [on homosexuality]? Everyone thought he was changing Church teaching. But he was just paraphrasing in his own words the Church teaching.”

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