Senior Vatican official makes case for a married priesthood

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The Roman Catholic Church should “seriously think” about allowing priests to marry, a senior Vatican official and advisor to Pope Francis said in an interview published yesterday.

“This is probably the first time I’m saying it publicly and it will sound heretical to some people,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who is also adjunct secretary in the Vatican’s doctrinal office, told the Times of Malta.

Pope Francis in 2019 ruled out any chance that he would change the Roman Catholic rule requiring priests to be celibate.

But it is not a formal doctrine of the Church and so it could be changed by a future Pope.

In an interview with a Latin American news outlet in 2023, Francis spoke about the celibacy rule again, saying that “it is not eternal, like priestly ordination”, but a “discipline” that could be revised.

A Vatican spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Scicluna, perhaps best known for his investigations of sexual abuse crimes, noted that priests were allowed to marry in the first millennium of the Church’s history and that marriage is allowed today in the Eastern rite of the Catholic Church.

“If it were up to me, I would revise the requirement that priests have to be celibate,” he said. “Experience has shown me that this is something we need to seriously think about.”

Scicluna, 64, said the Church had “lost many great priests because they chose marriage”.

He said “there is a place” for celibacy in the Church but that it also had to take into consideration that a priest sometimes falls in love.

He then has to choose “between her and the priesthood and some priests cope with that by secretly engaging in sentimental relationships”.

The debate over whether Roman Catholic priests should be allowed to marry has been around for centuries.

Married men are allowed to become priests in the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church as well as in the Orthodox Church.

Protestant and Anglican Churches also allow a married priesthood. Opponents of a married priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church say celibacy allows a priest to dedicate himself entirely to the Church.

In 2021, the Pope dismissed a proposal to allow some elderly married men to be ordained in remote areas in the Amazon where in some places the faithful saw a priest as little as once a year.