The Catholic Church continues to lose priests at an alarming rate.
The Vatican is preparing to open a formal debate concerning an issue which has been a taboo for hundreds of years: throwing open the doors to the priesthood to married men in clergy-deficient areas of the world.
The pope has already convened a meeting in 2019 to this effect and invitations were already issued to South American bishops to find a solution to the paucity of priests in the Amazon basin, a huge area served by extremely few priests. The meeting or synod will concentrate on whether the viri probati, a term given to married men having proven virtue, can be appointed as priests or in other ancillary professions linked to the church. For the pontiff, this issue is a welcome distraction from the Vatican's uncontrolled sex abuse scandal.
Pope Francis will get help from an unlikely source: a two-hour long documentary to be aired on Italian television. The program titled The Choice: Priests and Love has profiled a number of men in multiple European nations who are living secretly with women and created church communities unsanctioned by the Vatican. These are the spaces where married priests oversee pastoral activities. A few have abandoned the priesthood to get married. The documentary presents the case that many men will happily return to the priestly fold if the Catholic church permits.
Pope Francis is aware of these men and sympathetic towards their plight. He has expressed his willingness to consider the viri probati to satisfy pastoral requirements in the depth of the Amazon. The pontiff was contacted by Vocatio, the association of Italian “married priests.” They expressed solidarity with the Vatican in present troubled times and offered their ministerial services if required. The requirement that a priest must be celibate began in the 11th century. No church doctrine requires it. Many Eastern Catholic Churches permit married men to be ordained. The Catholic Church itself permits married Anglican clergy. The latter are the priests who have converted to keep their pastoral jobs.
— Thomas Taschinger (@PoliticalTom) October 23, 2018
For Pope Francis, allowing married men to function as priests is a logical step. The number of priests continues to decrease for the second year running, with 687 priests discarding their robes in 2018. The decrease in the number of priests continues even as the Catholic population in the world went up by 14.25 billion. The principal problem of entrusting the job to married priests is monetary. Once allowed, the church may have to financially proved for the priests' families.