Pope Francis suggests reviewing Catholic Church’s 1,000 years practice of celibacy for priests

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Athens, Greece, to Rome Dec. 6, 2021. The pope was concluding a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has hinted that he would review the Roman Catholic Church’s rule of priestly celibacy, describing it as an individual “discipline” rather than a “contradiction” to the church.

Francis, who previously opposed the idea that celibacy was an option for leaders of the church, appeared to make a U-turn during his latest interview with Argentine outlet Infobae in celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his election as pope.

“There is no contradiction for a priest to marry. Celibacy in the western Church is a temporary prescription,” Francis, 86, remarked. “It is not eternal like priestly ordination, which is forever, whether you like it or not. Whether you leave or not is another matter, but it is forever. On the other hand, celibacy is a discipline.”

Celibacy was made a requirement in the Catholic Church around the 11th century, following centuries of tradition for priests to embrace the practice along with vows of abstinence.

Despite the rule sparking conflict within the church for nearly 1,000 years, the Vatican has continually enforced the rules, including Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Francis had maintained his predecessor’s view, arguing in 2019 that celibacy was a gift to the church, and in 2020, he rejected calls for married men to be ordained during a shortage of priests in the Amazon.

Most recently, Germany’s Catholic Church voted to formally send a request to the Pope to end the requirement, and it appears as though Francis might agree.

Citing the Eastern Rite Catholic Church, which gives more leeway to its priests, Francis said: “Everyone in the Eastern Church is married, or those who want to. Before ordination there is the choice to marry or to be celibate.”

He said of one such priest: “We have one in the curia [papal court] — I ran into him today — who has a wife and a son. There is no contradiction in a priest being married.”

Francis however, added that he did not believe the new rule would lead to more people joining the priesthood, and on the topic of marriage, the Pope put in his two cents about recent trends.

He told Infobae that he was concerned about rising divorce rates around the world and suggested that people were getting married too early.

“Sometimes one goes to a wedding and it seems more like it’s a social reception and not a sacrament,” he commented. “When young people say forever, who knows what they mean by forever.”


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