Do you remember this moment? I certainly do. It was March 13, 2013:
Here’s what I wrote about this at the moment it happened. It hardly seems like four whole years since Pope Francis’ election. But sometimes the amount of reading involved to discuss what he is doing in the Church is very long. Just in time for his anniversary, we have another controversy — this time over the issue of married priests.
Once again, there is question about what he actually said. This time, it is harder to piece together a complete transcription, especially since the interview he gave was with the German newspaper Die Zeit, in German, and you have to subscribe to get it. I also don’t know whether there is a complete translation anywhere. But I’ll go with the best of got in getting the Pope’s exact words, from the Jesuit magazine America, with an assist from the Catholic News Agency for the first paragraph:
Pope Francis suggested he sympathizes with Catholics who come to Mass only to discover that there is no priest available to celebrate the Eucharist. Without priestly vocations “the Church is weakened, because a Church without the Eucharist doesn’t have strength: the Church makes the Eucharist, but the Eucharist also makes the Church. The problem of vocations is a serious problem.”
His interviewer suggested that it was hard to attract young men to the priesthood and asked if the church would consider telling them “that they don’t have to renounce a love life in order to become a priest? Maybe as a bishop or a cardinal—but not as a priest?”
The pope responded: “The issue of voluntary celibacy is frequently discussed, especially if there is a shortage of clerics. But voluntary celibacy is not a solution.”
Die Zeit asked: “What about viri probati, those men of proven virtue, who are married but can be ordained deacons because of their exemplary Catholic moral conduct?”
The pope answered: “We need to consider if viri probati could be a possibility. If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities.”
Regarding an expanded role for the viri probati, Pope Francis said the church has to be ready to recognize “the right moment when the Holy Spirit calls for something.”
The way the press is interpreting this is that the Pope is considering married priests. But when the actual question the Pope was asked is included, it could seem as if he is considering married deacons. But the meaning is uncertain. One the one hand, since the Church already has married deacons, the pope seeing this as a “possibility” doesn’t seem to make much sense. On the other hand, there are scarcely any married deacons outside of the U.S, the only place that this seems to have caught on, so Francis really could be considering this a novelty in the remote areas of the world, largely in Latin America, he is talking about.
Also, the Pope’s words about “needing to determine what duties they could undertake,” doesn’t really make sense when talking about priests, who are rarely limited in what they can do as long as they have faculties, while deacons are limited in their abilities. They can preach at Mass, perform baptisms and witness marriages, but not celebrate the Eucharist or hear confessions. I think changing the actual sacramental abilities of deacons would be too great a break in the Church’s understanding of these things.
If the Pope actually is talking about married priests, the path he would be suggesting would be in line with the Church’s present understanding of allowed already married men who are ordained in the Anglican or Episcopalian churches to become married Catholic priests when they convert, and with the practice in the Eastern Catholic churches of allowing already married men to be ordained, but not ordination after marriage. He also seems to be looking at this as an exception, not the norm. And whether this would be addressed by a Synod, or other consultation with the bishops, or a move on the Pope’s part alone, has yet to be seen.
The Pope also spoke very briefly about the question of women deacons (who would also be very happy to help out in remote places):
He looked forward to the results of a papal commission on the history of women deacons. He noted that a Syrian theologian had once explained that “the question is not whether there were consecrated women or not but what they were doing.” He suggested that he was awaiting more information on the issue after the commission meets again this month.
That reminds me that I need to finish the post on women deacons I was planning. Maybe next week…
More news from Pope Francis will always give me something to write about. May God preserve him for a long time!