Pope Francis discusses revising priestly celibacy in new interview

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on March 8, 2023. Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on March 8, 2023. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

In a new interview, Pope Francis has discussed the possibility of revising the Western discipline of priestly celibacy.

“There is no contradiction for a priest to marry. Celibacy in the Western Church is a temporary prescription: I do not know if it is settled in one way or another, but it is temporary in this sense,” Pope Francis said in an interview published on March 10.

“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.”

When asked by the Argentine journalist Daniel Hadad if celibacy “could be reviewed,” Pope Francis responded: “Yes, yes. In fact, everyone in the Eastern Church is married. Or those who want to. There they make a choice. Before ordination there is the choice to marry or to be celibate,” according to a transcript provided by Infobae.

In response to the interviewer’s inquiry if the pope thought that making celibacy optional would lead more people to join the priesthood, Pope Francis said: “I do not think so,” noting that there are already married priests in the Catholic Church in the Eastern rites.

The pope added that earlier that day he had met with an Eastern Catholic priest who works in the Roman Curia who has a wife and a son.

Pope Francis has spoken about the value of priestly celibacy before. In January 2019 he said: “Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church. I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy, no."

The pope added at the time that he thinks there is room to consider some exceptions for married clergy in the Latin rite "when there is a pastoral necessity" in remote locations due to a lack of priests, such as in the Pacific islands.

The nearly one-hour-long interview published Friday with Infobae, a Miami-based Spanish-language online news outlet, also touched on Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship in Nicaragua, drug trafficking in Latin America, the war in Ukraine, and marriage annulments. 

When speaking of annulments, Pope Francis advised to look to what his predecessor Benedict XVI had said on the subject and said that “a large part of church marriages are invalid for lack of faith.”

“And think about it: Sometimes [one] goes to a wedding and it seems more like it's a social reception and not a sacrament,” Pope Francis said.

“When young people say ‘forever,’ who knows what they mean [by] ‘forever.’”

He added: “A very wise lady once told me: ‘You priests are very smart. To be ordained priests you have to spend six, seven years in the seminary. On the other hand, to get married, which is for a lifetime — because a priest can leave, on the other hand, for us it is for a lifetime— they give us four meetings.’”

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