First, he acknowledged the rights and privileges of LGBTQ groups and individuals in Brazil. Then he sanctioned the use of contraceptives to curb the spread of Zika virus in Latin America. He also called for the evaluation and reformation of the values and customs of the Catholic Church. And instituted an indefinite absolution of abortion. Now Pope Francis is suggesting that married men can be ordained priests in the Catholic Church. A suggestion he made as a way of tackling the shortages of priests in rural communities.
“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility,” he said in the interview with Germany’s Die Zeit. “Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities.”
According to the Associated Press (AP), the proposal for viri probati, Latin for “tested man” or “married men of proven faith” has been around for decades. But it’s currently getting attention due to the challenges facing the church in Latin America, a predominantly Catholic population where the people – priest ratio is 10,000 to one.
The situation notwithstanding, the Pope’s openness to viri probati stands contrary to the fundamental laws of the church, which is for priests to be unmarried and celibate in order to serve God committedly without the distraction of a wife and family. Instruction 277 of Chapter three of the Church’s Code of Canon Law states:
“Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.”
However, there has been an ongoing debate within the Catholic Church to abolish the celibacy rule with arguments about whether or not priestly celibacy has a place in today’s world. Vatican figures show that between 1964 and 2004, over 69,000 men quit priesthood worldwide, most of them, to get married and start a family.
The AP also reports that the Pope’s long-time friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who was a former head of the Vatican’s office for clergy, is actively in support of viri probati, and pushing for its institution in Latin America to alleviate the shortage of priests.
Pope Francis did point out that while he is open to reforming the celibacy rule, optional celibacy where ordained priests are allowed to get married is not a solution. Surely, this latest suggestion does nothing to rid the world’s beloved pope of the title of “the most damaging Pope in Church history.” But by now, the world surely must be accustomed to the Pope being a nonconformist.