The Catholic Church has a longstanding prohibition on married men becoming priests, but this long-time commandment may soon be subject to change.
Last Thursday, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, Pope Francis said he might consider making exceptions to ordain married men who are already heavily involved in the Roman Catholic Church.
Let’s back track a little bit here, why were married men not allowed to become priests in the first place?
Within the church’s Code of Canon Law, the chastity requirement is spelled out pretty clearly: “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 minsters 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.”
Contrary to this Law, abstaining from marriage hasn’t always been a requirement for the sacrament of holy orders. Within the days of early church, things were much more relaxed. Married clergy were often asked not to have sex with their wives and this was because the attitudes of sex made an impact on the minister’s readiness for sacred duty.
It wasn’t until the 11th century that widespread celibacy requirements were adopted. Jesus himself was not married, however, biblical scholars assume that most of his disciples were, since at the time Judaism frowned upon bachelorhood.
One of the reasons that celibacy eventually became a rule for clerics was early Christianity’s moral views on sex. Even within marriage, sex was viewed as an evil except for procreation.
It was at this time that the church saw the growth of celibate communities for men and women, this was seen as a virtue essential to those who would essentially devote their lives to God. Nowadays, there are some married men who are priests and these are priests who converted to Catholicism.
However, married men who become priests will have to meet some strict criteria, says the Pope.
Those ordained will have to come from “remote” communities in dire need of clergy, and they will be expected to become celibate.
In many ways the Pope’s recent announcement is a response to a crisis long plaguing the Catholic Church: a shortage of clergy.
The last four decades have seen the world’s Catholic population leap by over 50 per cent, relatively higher than the world’s total growth. During the same period, the number of priests within the church declined by 17 per cent.
The Pope’s views on married priests aren’t likely to apply to expanding ordination to include women, however, he told reporters in November that the Church’s restriction on female priests will likely remain in place indefinitely.
The Pope also devoted a portion of the interview to warn against the rising tide of populism in western countries.
“Populism is an evil and ends badly, as the last century has shown,” said Francis. He continued to say populism uses people by offering them a false messiah.
This is not the first time Pope Francis has spoken out against populism. As President Trump was being sworn in on January, the Pope was being interviewed by Spanish newspaper El Pais.
”Of course, crises provoke fears and worries,” he said, citing Germany in 1933. “Germany… was looking for a leader, someone who would give her back her identity and there was a little man named Adolf Hitler who said ‘I can do it.’”
“Hitler did not steal power,” said the Pope. “He was elected by his people and then he destroyed his people.”
However, Pope Francis said it was too early to pass judgement on Trump, saying he would wait and see what happens.
-Loredana Del Bello, Assistant News Editor