ROME (RNS) — In an interview published Friday (March 10), Pope Francis called celibacy in the priesthood a gift from God but also a “provisional” discipline observed mostly in the Western Church that is not essential to ordination.
The pope’s comment came as an interviewer with the Argentine news agency Infobae asked the pontiff whether lifting the celibacy obligation in the Catholic Church would increase the number of candidates to the priesthood.
“I don’t think so,” the pope said, adding that there already are married priests among the Eastern-rite Catholics. “Here in the (Roman) Curia we have one — just today I met him — who has his wife and his son” with him.
“Nevertheless, there is no contradiction for a priest to marry,” Francis said. “Celibacy in the Western Church is a temporal prescription.” Contrasting it with the status of priestly ordination, “which is forever, whether you like it or not,” he called celibacy “not eternal.”
“Whether you leave or not is another matter,” he added. “On the other hand, celibacy is a discipline.”
“So it could be revised?” asked Argentine journalist Daniel Hadad.
“Yes, yes,” Francis replied. “In fact, everyone in the Eastern Church is married, or those who want to. There they make a choice. Before ordination, (they have) the choice to marry or to be celibate.”
Francis has challenged the practice of priestly celibacy before, most recently in a major address he gave at the Vatican a year ago in which he again discussed priestly celibacy as “a gift” but warned that “without friends and without prayer, celibacy can become an unbearable burden and a counter-witness to the very beauty of the priesthood.”
But in his 2020 papal exhortation “Querida Amazonia” that followed the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon Region, held in October 2019, Francis dismissed allowing married priests as a solution to clergy shortages in remote areas of South America. More recently, Vatican officials have cautioned Catholic Church reformers in Germany who have called for an end to celibacy as a requirement for ordination.
During the wide-ranging interview with Infobae, Francis also spoke on the need for the church to follow Jesus’ example and be welcoming to all, especially homosexual persons.
“The big answer was given by Jesus: Everybody! Everyone inside,” he said.
Using the example of Jesus’ parable of the great banquet, the pope said that when “the fancy ones did not want to go,” the master of the house tells his servant to invite everyone, “good, bad, old, young, children; everyone!”
“This is a church of sinners. I don’t know where the church of saints is, here we are all sinners. And who am I to judge a person if he or she has good will? Today there is a lot of focus on this problem,” he said.
“I think we have to go to the essence of the Gospel: Jesus calls everyone,” Francis said.