German Cardinal Walter Kasper said this week he believes that Pope Francis would be open to ordaining married men if a group of bishops were to request it in a special case.
It has been suggested that the issue of ordaining married men might be discussed during an upcoming Vatican meeting of Bishops on the Amazon region. In this context, Cardinal Kasper, a close adviser to Pope Francis, said that if the bishops ask for the ordination of married men, the pope will grant the request.
“If the bishops agreed by mutual consent to ordain married men — so-called viri probati — to the priesthood, in my estimation, the pope would in principle be prepared to do so,” the cardinal said in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper this week.
This practice would not necessarily have to be decided at the global level, Kasper said, since the idea of viri probati is not a doctrine of faith.
“The celibacy of consecrated ministers has an intimate closeness to it, but it is not a dogma, not an unalterable practice,” Kasper said. “I am very much in favor of keeping celibacy as a binding way of life with undivided commitment to the cause of Jesus Christ, but that does not exclude a married man from taking over the priestly service in special situations.”
Francis himself has insisted on the importance of priestly celibacy, going so far as to confess: “I would rather give my life than to change the law on celibacy,” appropriating the words of Pope Paul VI.
“I’m not in agreement with allowing optional celibacy. No,” the pope said last January during a press conference aboard the papal plane returning to Rome from Panama.
Francis did open the door to theologians studying the possibility of ordaining “older married men” in “far, faraway places,” such as the islands in the Pacific, the case of viri probati referenced by Cardinal Kasper.
“It’s not for me to decide. My decision is, optional celibacy before the diaconate, no,” the pope said. “I will not do this. I don’t feel like standing in front of God with this decision.”