Pope Francis has asked that priests be allowed to marry.
The request, which would address a shortage of clergy, would only apply to priests in Brazil, where Cardinal Claudio Hummes asked the Pope to consider men who are “viri probati,” or “married of great faith,” to serve as priests. The proposal will be debated by local bishops at an upcoming synod and, should it ultimately be approved, could be used as a test case to determine if ordaining married might work elsewhere.
In March, Francis said he was open to the idea of ordaining married men to alleviate priest shortages in remote areas. A small number already exist, most of whom were Anglican priests who converted. It’s estimated there are about 120 married priests in the U.S. alone.
Monsignor Erwin Krautler, the secretary of the Episcopal Commission and prelate of Xingu in northern Brazil, suggested ordaining women deacons as priests to adress with the shortage. But the Pope has said the church’s prohibition on ordaining women would likely last forever.
“The fact of having a wife or children does not limit at all working in a parish,” Monsignor Giacomo Canobbio, a leading Italian theologian, told the Telegraph, adding that married priests would not have to take a vow of chastity, but would have a “normal married life.”
“I believe that Francis could review this,” Canobbio added, “though he would not decide alone but would start a collegial process. The question is urgent.”
The church has required priests to be celibate at least since the 4th Century. A change of this magnitude would likely start a larger conversation about who is eligible to join the priesthood, including, potentially openly gay men. After all, it was just in September that Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions.