Pope hints at change to celibate priest rule

It appears that Pope Francis may be rethinking the idea of clerical celibacy.  In an interview with La Repubblica, an Italian daily newspaper, Pope Francis described the celibacy of the priesthood as "a problem" in need of a solution.  “There definitely is a problem but it is not a major one. This needs time but there are solutions and I will find them,” Francis said, without elaborating further.  The interview is one in a series conducted with Pope Francis by the 90-year-old founder of the La Repubblica daily, Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist.

Although marriage has long been forbidden to Roman Catholic priests, there are married Catholic priests in many of the 22 Eastern Rite Catholic churches that, although they have their own liturgy, acknowledge the Pope as their titular head. 

Pope Francis addresses Vatican Square

Pope Francis addresses Vatican Square

A Univision poll of 12 heavily Catholic countries released this past February indicates that Roman Catholics are closely divided on the issue, with a slender majority, 50% to 47%, believing that priests should be allowed to marry. 

There is nothing in Scripture forbidding church leaders to marry.  To the contrary, Paul warns that "in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry  . . .1 Tim. 4:1-3.  In describing the qualifications of a bishop or overseer, Paul states that he should be "the husband of one wife," and have his children in subjection, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"  1 Tim. 3:2-5; Titus 1:5-7. 

Catholic defenders of a celibate clergy argue that they are following Christ's example in remaining single, and point to Jesus' statement in Matthew 19:12 that some would "choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

Sometime after the apostles and prior to the Fourth Century, a heretical belief crept into the church that priests should not be married, and if married should remain celibate.  (Rev. Alexander Hislop, in The Two Babylons, argues that priestly celibacy was a feature of the ancient Babylonian worship of Semiramis.)  The first statement in official church documents that church leaders should not marry or, if married, remain celibate, comes in the early Fourth Century, at the Council of Elvira (ca. 305 AD) and later the Council of Carthage (ca. 397 AD).  Despite these rulings, clerical marriage in Catholicism remained common throughout the next millennium.  It was an open secret that many priests and even popes (e.g., Rodrigo Borgia) had wives or long-time mistresses and recognized children.  The First (1123 AD) and Second (1139 AD) Lateran Councils brought a serious crackdown on priests with wives or concubines.  Eventually it was taken for granted that priests must be unmarried and celibate, although this became a formal part of canon law only in the early 20th Century, in 1917. 

Even today, many priests have mistresses, as was underlined a couple of months ago when 26 "Vatican mistresses" signed a letter to Pope Francis asking him to consider making priestly celibacy optional, so that they could legitimate their relationships with their men. 

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