Over the last few days there have been several sensationalist articles published around the world once again claiming or implying that Pope Francis will allow married priests or married men to become priests (including Fairfax Media).
The truth is that married priests are already exist in the Catholic Church, mainly from married male clergy entering the Roman Catholic Church from other traditions such as the Eastern Catholic rites, Episcopalian or Anglican Church.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II decided to allow married men to become priests in certain situations. This report from Fox News shows one such example of a Married Catholic Priest.
The Catholic Church has also allowed married men to become priests under other rarer circumstances and certain provisions such as widowed men and former protestant pastors (see other examples below).
It is estimated that there are over 100 married priests in the U.S. according to academic Rev. Paul Sullins who wrote the book, Keeping the Vow: The Untold Story of Married Catholic Priests.
Recent articles refer to another article printed in the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero in which Cardinal Hummes reportedly asked the pope about the possibility of ordaining married men – viri probati (men of proven quality). According to Italian newspaper, the Pope has approved a request for bishops in Brazil to discuss the proposal.
The discussion has been brought about by the drastic priest shortage in Brazil, especially in the Amazon region, with some sources indicating there are less than 2 000 priests for the nation’s 100 million+ Catholics.
Some Catholic commentators have suggested that Canon Law 517 could possibly be enforced in such extreme circumstances which would allow a deacon or laity to perform pastoral duties.
Many articles quote Pope Francis in an interview with Die Zeit newspaper in March 2017 where he says, “We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities.”
However, the question in that interview – “What about the viri probati, those ‘tried and tested men’ who are married but can be ordained to deacons because of their exemplary life according to Catholic standards?” – was in reference to married men becoming deacons which is already allowed in the Catholic Church.
This is distinct from the issue of optional clerical celibacy or clerical marriage – allowing priests to marry – where Francis said in the same interview, “Optional celibacy is not a solution,” to the lack of vocations the priesthood.