Pope Francis Says Church Could Review Whether Priests Must Be Unmarried

Pope Francis revealed that the Catholic Church could consider jettisoning its ban on priests marrying, calling the tradition of celibacy for priests “temporary.”

According to the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbor.”

“There is no contradiction for a priest to marry,” Francis, 86, told the Argentine publication Infobae. “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. … It is not eternal like priestly ordination, which is forever whether you like it or not. On the other hand, celibacy is a discipline.”

Asked if celibacy could be reviewed, Francis referenced the Eastern Church, declaring, “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 2019, Francis offered a slightly different view of priests’ vow of celibacy, asserting, “Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church. I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy, no.” Although Francis said exceptions could be made for married clergy in the Latin rite “when there is a pastoral necessity” in remote locations, he also quoted Pope Paul VI saying: “I prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy.”

As early as 1,800 years ago, the Synod of Elvira stated, “It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.”

The Vatican acknowledges, “It is clear from the New Testament that at least the Apostle Peter had been married, and that bishops, presbyters and deacons of the Primitive Church were often family men.”

The First Lateran Council (1123) “made into general law the prohibition of cohabiting with wives,” the Vatican notes.

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