Pope Francis says church could consider married priests

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Now the pope is questioning the church's longstanding rule that priests can not be married. It's the idea that married men who have proven their faith and are actively involved in the Catholic Church could become priests.

By pushing the church toward more open debate about married priests, Francis may anger Catholic conservatives who are already opposed to his move to offer communion to some divorcees who remarry in civil courts.

Pope Francis also encouraged people to pray, and work "with young people who are seeking orientation", in order to combat this issue.

Clerical celibacy has been the practice of the church since at least the Spanish Council of Elvira in 306, according to author George Sim Johnston, however, there have been exceptions.

Apparently, the proposal has been on the table for decades and was first brought to attention by Pope Francis, who acknowledges that in Latin American countries there is a shortage of priests.

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Pope Francis made the comments in an interview with a German newspaper. Some Eastern Catholic churches are also allowed to maintain their tradition of having married priests.

"We must consider if viri probati is a possibility", he said in the interview. There is roughly one priest for every 10,000 Catholics in this area. In the United States, the celibacy requirement is partly what sets priests apart from clergy in Protestant denominations. However, it wouldn't allow unmarried men that are already priests to get married. Priests from other sects of Christianity, such as Lutheranism or Episcopalianism, where marriage has been allowed for clergy, have been accepted as Catholic priests with the permission of their wives.

"I would certainly give it serious consideration", he said.

But Schmalz thinks that the idea might be less appealing to some in the pews.

"For some Catholics, this is like yet another example of things they have taken for granted about Catholicism that are now being reexamined", Schmalz said.

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