Issue of married Catholic priests gains traction under pope

Pope Francis, top, greets cardinals at the end of the opening Mass for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on Oct. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — As the Vatican copes with the growing clergy sex abuse scandal and declining number of priests worldwide, it is laying the groundwork to open formal debate on an issue that has long been taboo: opening up the priesthood to married men in parts of the world where clergy are scarce.

Pope Francis has convened a meeting of South American bishops next year focusing on the plight of the church in the Amazon, a vast territory served by far too few priests. During that synod, the question of ordaining married men of proven virtue — so-called viri probati — is expected to figure on the agenda.

This week, a two-hour documentary on Italian television is likely to contribute to the conversation. “The Choice: Priests and Love” profiles more than a dozen men in four European countries who are living clandestinely with women, have created their own unsanctioned church communities where married priests preside at Mass or have left the Catholic priesthood altogether to marry.

The documentary, to be aired Wednesday (Oct. 24)  on Discovery Italia and previewed to The Associated Press, makes the case that many of these men would gladly return to the priesthood and offer their pastoral services.

Their plight has found a sympathetic ear in Francis, who has long expressed a willingness to consider viri probati to address pastoral needs in the Amazon. He has also expressed sympathy for priests who have made the anguished choice to leave.

Vocatio, an Italian association of these “married priests,” wrote Francis earlier this month pledging its solidarity as he copes with the global fallout of the sex abuse scandal, and once again offering the association’s services in ministry.

“We would like you to take into consideration — without prejudice or pretense — the opportunity of allowing us an active presence in diocesan activity, given our experience and competence in the sacraments we have lived: ministry and matrimony,” the group wrote.

The head of Vocatio — former priest Rosario Mocciaro, who married civilly in 1977 — estimates there are about 5,000 men in Italy alone who have left the priesthood, a third of whom would seek a return to married ministry if allowed. He said he was hopeful for progress under Francis and some sympathetic Italian bishops, saying they brought “a new air and atmosphere” to a long-standing problem.

“The possibility of having viri probati would be a great opening, a great step forward,” he told AP, adding it would begin to sensitize the church and public opinion to the prospect of both a married and a celibate priesthood.

The celibate priesthood has been a tradition of the Latin rite Catholic Church since the 11th century; no doctrine requires it, and many Eastern rite Catholic Churches allow married men to be ordained. In addition, the Catholic Church allows married Anglican clergy who convert to remain in priestly ministry.

Francis has long said he appreciates the discipline of celibacy but that it can change given it is discipline, not doctrine.
History’s first Latin American pope has been particularly attentive to the argument in favor of the viri probati in the Amazon, where the mostly indigenous faithful can go months without seeing a priest, and where Protestant and evangelical churches are wooing away Catholic souls.

While the situation is particularly grave there, overall the number of priests worldwide has dropped for another consecutive year — down 687 to 414,969 — while the global Catholic population has grown by 14.25 million, according to recent figures from the Vatican’s Fides missionary service.

Opening the priesthood to married men, even in limited and localized places, would open the question of providing financially for the priests’ families — an expense long cited as a key reason for the imposition of celibacy in the 11th century: The church didn’t want its assets to pass down to priests’ heirs.

The issue of providing for the children of priests, however, is already on the agenda at the Vatican and in bishops conferences and religious orders around the world, given the cases of priests who violate their celibacy vows and have children secretly.

An Irish psychotherapist and son of a priest, Vincent Doyle, has founded an online resource, Coping International, to offer assistance for priests’ children, who often endure depression, anxiety and other mental health issues blamed on the silence imposed on them by the church.

Doyle has successfully petitioned the pope’s Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors — his hand-picked sex abuse advisory committee — to consider the issue of priests’ children to be part of its mandate, given some of these children are born to minors.
“Our expectation is that from this process will emerge initiatives that can contribute to the healing of those impacted by this issue,” wrote commission member Neville Owen, who heads the commission’s committee on guidelines.

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Nicole Winfield


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  • Conservative Catholics will of course oppose this idea. If they were smart they wouldn’t. I say that because once the doors are opened to married heterosexual priests the pressure on all priests to marry (women) would be intense as has happened in Protestant churches. Conservatives’ dream of purging the Catholic priesthood of gay men would be fulfilled as fewer and fewer gay men would seek to escape the reality of their sexuality by hiding in the celibate priesthood, and “family values” in the rectory would quickly become the order of the day in parishes everywhere. Et voila! Gay priest problem solved!

  • I think readers should check out VOCATIO before drawing conclusions about its recommendations. They have a Facebook page online.

  • Or if gay priests were allowed to marry, that would help solve the priest shortage problem. This, of course, would be several steps too far for the True Believers in Iron Age superstitions.

  • except homosexual “priests” are not Christian.

    Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
John 14:15 – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

    John 2: 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,”

    1 John 1:6 – If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

    1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

    1 John 3: 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

    1 John 5:2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.

    Christ commanded “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 18:22

    All saying they are not Christian and have no good relationship with Jesus.

  • As my Mom used to say, “if wishes were horses then beggars would ride.” Nice thought. Ain’t gonna happen.

  • Is there any evidence that married clergy, common in non-Catholic Christian denominations, are any less committed and effective? If not, what’s the point of celibacy?

  • You know nothing of Christ. And by the way, “Christ” didn’t write the Book of Leviticus. That’s a fact.

  • It would only make sense to look at bringing back into ministry the priests who left ministry to marry if a decision is made to allow “ordaining married men of proven virtue — so-called viri probati…”

    The priest shortage is only getting worse, folks. Average age of priests is getting higher and higher. And celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. We need for the bishops, cardinals, and the pope to recognize they must act. Do any of them think that fewer priests can “accompany” the youth of today, much less the rest of us, with a shrinking number of those who are trained and designated as the “pastors” and the “shepherds?” Don’t let the priesthood be reduced to waving magic wands over bits of wheat bread. They should be so much more.

  • I think the situation that the Catholic Church faces will force it to adjust the rule on celibacy. Already Eastern Rite Catholics have married priests and I think it’s only a matter of time before this custom spreads.

    Within living memory, the liturgy was changed from Latin to the local languages. This was a significant change, but it was accepted by most, if not all. The same applies to accepting more married men into the priesthood. Changing this from being exceptional to being common practice could happen over time and with little disruption.

    The next step, of allowing priests to marry, would take longer.

  • The situation that the Catholic Church faces is the same one it has faced for nearly 2,000 years.

    Married priests is a solution in search of a problem.

  • Married priests would not solve all the problems of the Catholic Church. However, it would help if more men of the marrying kind could become priests.

    * Banning married men from joining the priesthood restricts the recruitment of priests to those who are not the marrying kind. We have seen what that can result in.

    The alternative, of allowing more married men to become priests, has the following advantages:

    * Married men are somewhat less likely to be gay, bisexual or pedophiles.
    * Married men understand the pressures of married life, and this would help their ministry.

    Of course, there are disadvantages in having married clergy, but I would guess that the advantages of allowing more married men into the priesthood would outweigh the disadvantages. After all, it works tolerably well for the Eastern Rite Catholics, the Orthodox, the Anglicans and the Protestants, and it requires no change of doctrine.

  • Hi Mark. Nothing solves all problems, but minimising the harm of clerical sexual abuse and stemming the declining numbers of vocations to the priesthood could help the church.

    *At the very least, accepting married men into the priesthood would increase the number of potential vocations.
    *The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse recommended that the Australian Catholic Church request permission from the Vatican to introduce voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.

    This Royal Commission recommendation needs to be taken seriously. I hope you read this short article on the findings of the Royal Commission.

  • Too little, too late as the errors in Christian history and theology vitiates the need or desire for priests et. al.

  • Deacons lead the way. Married deacons in the Catholic church in the USA
    support themselves through non-clerical employment. This can be the norm
    for most Catholic priests as well. A parish can be swell served by a
    team of married, priests who work part time for the church, at no pay.
    Right now having one priest serve three parishes or having churches that
    see a priest once a month at best is not good ministry.

  • Leviticus commands that all adulterers, male and female, be put to death. It commands that females , but not males, who have premarital sex be put to death.

  • If the Pope chooses to push it, he’ll find the qualities needed in a church leader already laid out in Paul’s letter to Timothy. Of course, according to this ALL the local priests, at least, should be married:

    “So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?”

  • The Australian Royal Commission was essentially a show trial, devoid of the normal rules of evidence and defense.

    The recommendation for voluntary celibacy was unsupported by facts, by science, or by anything other than some opinions of people who arrived with minds made up.

    It was promptly, and appropriately, disregarded by the Catholic Church.

  • A Royal Commission is a commission of inquiry. It isn’t a trial. In this case it was an inquiry into INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSES to child sexual abuse.

    The Royal Commission sat for five years, heard thousands of testimonies and made more than a hundred recommendations.
    Its call for voluntary celibacy has been supported by voices within the Catholic Church in Australia. I urge you to read this article:

    The recommendation for married priests and voluntary celibacy has been passed on to Rome. See

    If you want to comment on the Royal Commission, first find out about it.

  • So, it was an opinion poll.

    That explains the shoddy report with recommendations lacking of any serious objective underpinnings.

  • No, Mark. The Royal Commission was a commission of inquiry, not an opinion poll. Its 17 volume final report, which you can find here: can give you all the details.

    I suggest that before you make any more claims, allegations or slurs about the Royal Commission, you find out about what it found, what it wrote and what it recommended.

    At the moment, your claims only reflect your lack of any information whatsoever.

  • If it was an inquiry, then proper rules of due process should have applied.

    They did not.

    If it was a compendium of opinions, proper rules of due process did not apply but then the conclusions are simply opinions.

    It is one, it is the other, but it cannot be both.

    For example, despite the fact that every study has found no relationship at all between celibacy and child abuse, it recommends making celibacy optional.

    The Anglican Church of Australia basically got a free pass.

    Given the history of anti-Catholicism in Australia and the Church of England in Australia’s role in it, that is no surprise.

    And so on.

    Apparently you absolutely love it. I am equally absolutely unimpressed with it.

    Do not bother responding to me further on the Royal Commission, which you apparently adore and I abhor.

  • Mark, once again you have made a spray of accusations without any evidence.

    * You have claimed that proper rules of due process did not apply to the Royal Commission. Where is your evidence?

    * You have claimed that EVERY study has found no relationship at all between celibacy and child abuse. Where is your evidence?

    You have claimed that the Anglican Church of Australia “basically got a free pass” from the Royal Commission. Where is your evidence?

    The Catholic Church is the largest Christian and religious body in Australia. In the 2016 Census, 22.6% of the population were Catholic and 13.3% were Anglican.[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/2071.0~2016~Main%20Features~Religion%20Data%20Summary~70 Where is your evidence that Anglicans (or anyone else) are persecuting Catholics in today’s Australia?

    Where is your evidence that I “adore” the Royal Commission?

    Your contribution to this discussion has been all accusation but no evidence. However, if you want to leave it at that, so be it.

  • That’s up to you, Mark. I have tried my best to reason with you, and appeal to you to provide evidence for your assertions, but this has fallen on deaf ears.

    If you want to discuss anything you must be prepared to give evidence for your opinions. It’s not appropriate to make assertions and then when you are challenged to provide evidence, treat it as an attack.

    If you can’t stand being asked to back up your assertions with evidence, then go ahead and block me.

  • I have read your exchanges on the Royal Commission for months with a number of commenters.

    You simply disregard all the problems with the Commission that are pointed out, tout it as better evidence than the facts can support, and present it as a Sacred Scripture.

    It is not, and my own conclusion in reading it and its support is that your correspondents consistently have the better of you.

    So, bring it up all you want with anyone – except me.

  • Mark, I have asked you to provide evidence for your assertions about the Royal Commission. You have consistently refused to do so. Instead, you have made nonsense claims that I “adore” the Royal Commission or that I present it as sacred scripture!

    As you don’t even try to back up your wild accusations with evidence, further discussion on this subject is futile.

  • The burden is on you to prove that the Royal Commission report is worth more than the paper it is written on.

    As you have done with your previous correspondents, you seem to think the burden is on me to prove it is wrong.

    That, of course, means there is no discussion, not that discussion is futile.

  • Mark,

    * You claimed that the Royal Commission was “shoddy”. I say, prove it!

    * You said that the Royal Commission did not follow proper rules of process. I say, demonstrate it!

    * You said the Anglican Church of Australia basically got a free pass from the Royal Commission. I say, show that this is true, or withdraw this slur.

    * Ditto for a whole host of other allegations.

    The burden is on you is to substantiate your accusations or shut up.

  • The only burden that appears to be on me is to stop responding to your unsupported opinions.

    I have better things to do than spend an hour taking a silly report in a minor English-speaking country with a long history of anti-Catholicism apart to prove to someone with a track record of not listening at all to critiques that the report is not all that impressive.

    For example, I pointed out as a number of your previous correspondents have that the recommendation celibacy be made optional in the Catholic Church runs contrary to the research that exists. Your response was to suggest I read the report – again – so that I could present the very same case that others have presented before to no avail.

    No, thank you.

  • Mark, you called the Royal Commission report “silly.” That gives me the opportunity to present some more facts

    There was a national apology after the royal commission found institutions often failed to protect children. Members of Parliament wept as the apology was read. Read about it here:

    You said the Anglican Church got a free pass, That is a lie:
    The Royal Commission revealed the scale of sexual abuse in the Anglican Church: “The data shows that 1,115 complaints of child sexual abuse were received by the church between 1980 and the end of 2015, involving 22 of the 23 Anglican dioceses in Australia. Those complaints were made by 1,082 survivors against 569 named and 133 unnamed perpetrators.”

    In the Catholic Church, up to “15% of priests in some dioceses were alleged perpetrators between 1950 and 2015,… The numbers were even worse in some national Catholic orders. By far the worst was the order of the St John of God Brothers, where a staggering 40% of religious brothers are believed to have abused children….Twenty-two per cent of Christian Brothers and 20% of Marist Brothers, both orders that run schools, were alleged perpetrators.”

    Please write again. It will give me another chance to counter your misinformation with facts, backed up by citations.

    Oh, and have a nice day.

  • I am about to block you. I just want to give you fair warning.

    Over several months I have noticed that your spiel is the Royal Commission Report, which you treat almost like a sacred text.

    As is occurring in this exchange you cherry pick your data, disregard objections, and demand “proofs” when you should in fact be trying to support the credibility of the Royal Commission Report, which outside of Australia has very little purchase.

    Now I am being treated to the Guardian.

    I take it we’re going from the silly to the outright axe-grinding.

    So, you can direct this over-the-top one-sided anti-Catholic drivel at someone else – we’ll call that someone else “the next victim”.

    If you direct one more syllable of it to me, I’ll eliminate your comments from my reading altogether.

  • Hi Mark,

    You accused me of presenting you with one-sided anti-Catholic drivel. Actually I countered your lie that the Anglican Church got a free pass. Here’s that link again:

    You say that the Royal Commission has very little purchase elsewhere. That’s another lie. Here’s one piece of evidence:

    “The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) is a public inquiry that warrants close attention from the international community. The largest royal commission in Australia’s history, measured by financial investment, length of operation, volume of evidence taken, and number of commissioners, witnesses and submissions, it is one of the most important public inquiries into institutional child abuse globally, comparable in significance and impact to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Commission) in Ireland, which reported in 2009.”

    Here’s another:
    “The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has performed its task magnificently. Its scale, complexity and quality is unprecedented. Its work is already being acknowledged internationally as a model of best practice.”

    The Vatican said royal commission findings deserve to ‘be studied seriously’ Here’s a report on that:

    The New York Times reported extensively on the Royal Commission

    Another review:

    Thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to present some more accurate and reliable information. Please write again.

    Have a nice day.

  • Of course you’re blocked.

    You’re now ranting.

    If the Australian Commission Report spoke for itself, you wouldn’t be citing articles by others to prop it up.

    You may recall that what I asked you to explain was how it came to the recommendation that celibacy among Catholic clergy be made optional when every single study of celibacy and its consequences has found zero correlation between celibacy, abuse, or mental problems.

    A half dozen of your over-the-top post later, about 8,500 words, I still don’t have your answer to that simple question.

    And we both know why. You couldn’t argue you way out of a sandwich bag.

    So, enjoy ranting someone else as I will never read another of your posts again.

    Bon voyage, adios, and good-bye.

  • Hi Mark,

    I thank you for responding.

    I’ll leave it to others to decide who was ranting.

    You have asked me to account for the recommendation that celibacy be made optional. You have once again stated, without even trying to demonstrate that it is true, that there is no connection between celibacy and child abuse. I can’t answer that question. All I can do is to refer you to the findings of the Royal Commission. Here is the link:

    I am also providing a link to a series of podcasts about the problems of sexual abuse. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

    I would not have found all this material if it had not been for my attempts to counter your distortions and lies. It’s been an education for me, and I thank you for your part in it.

    Thank you and good-bye.

  • in the 5 links that you give to the vatican website is there anything that suggests an open discussion on the history and the theology of the subject ?

  • too far for most in the catholic church . whether believers in iron age superstitions–of which there are but few–or twenty first century believers in the mission and purpose of jesus of nazareth . but that will change in either case .

  • again, sandinwindsor, you are misreading the scripture .

    in fact you don’t even know the teaching of the catholic church that accepts that there are gay men, but does not allow any sexual activity by them .

  • could you at least note that homosexuality is an aspect of a personality that a person had no choice about . it is what one is born as. that cannot be a sin . it is the act of god .

    what in your mind would be the sin is the doing the act .

    at least understand the difference .

  • as you should . but the statement that you made here : “[christ] dictated Leviticus to Moses” suggests that you have intimate knowledge of how the trinity works . knowledge not in the bible in any such explicit way .

    so i noted above that you seemed to be in the heresy of gnosticism : those in the early days of christianity who believed that they had secret revelation from god that other christians did not have .

    if you prefer christ to heresy then stick closer to the bible .

  • again i ask, in these links you give to the vatican website, is there any open discussion on the history and the theology and the discipline of celibacy ?

    open : as in presenting both sides of the argument (in the aristotelian sense of the word) .

    discussion : as in presenting those theologians of the catholic church who have a different viewpoint and understanding of the history and the current demands on the church that would mandate a different discipline .

  • You may be under the misimpression that the Catholic Church is a debating society.

    You’ll find what you’re looking for on websites which incorporate Disqus comments like this one.

  • the reality of the catholic church has always been that many deep and profound debates go on in the church continually among theologians . the old idea was that they should be done sotto voce so as to not disturb the faithful .

    now, with the church having been incredibly successful in creating the largest and most education laity in its history, it is time to bring the discussions, and yes debates, into the open . the church is “the people of god” . the hierarchy should welcome the ideas and the input from the pews . all guidance of the holy spirit for the church has never been solely from the halls of the vatican .

  • no. Sin is not a ‘personality trait”. That would place the responsibility for our sin on Christ

    James 1:13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But 14each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

  • The reality is exactly what I presented.

    The Church is by divine institution hierarchical (Lumen Gentium).

    Up to the point where get excommunicated you can debate all you want to, but you do not get a vote.

  • you have what i wrote backwards . read it again .

    the personality is such that it has different orientations, different for each person . simply experienced fact . that god makes people that way is not a sin .

    you, the same as the catholic church, believe that acting on that orientation is the sin . the the orientation itself .

  • There is no vote.



    …. Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. ….




    …. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ,(2*) the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God. ….

    There is a voice:

    Can. 212 §2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

    For folks looking for what you seem to aiming at, assuming you are in the USA, I usually recommend:


  • no. Sin is not a ‘personality trait”. That would place the responsibility for our sin on Christ

    James 1:13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But 14each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

  • and i suggest you go back and review your interpretation of leviticus and its death penalties, of paul’s condemnation of idolatry which you confuse with homosexuality as contrasted with the lusts that paul is condemning there, and finally your reduction of the salvation of christ into simply meaning that the death penalties of the hebrew scriptures were now not to be enforced .

    i am sorry but it seems to me that you are trivializing the salvation that christ gives us .

  • again i did NOT say anything like ‘sin is a personality trait’ .

    what i have said is that you confuse personality orientation with the action .

    that psychology is a different subject from the moral theology of homosexuality .

    you seem more interested in laying sin on people before you even understand what is going on .