Pope Francis has promised “solutions” on the issue of priests' celibacy, raising the possibility the Catholic Church could lift the ban on priests marrying.

It would not be before time with numbers of priests dropping dramatically all over the world and celibacy blamed as the major factor.

In 2012 just 12 men applied for the priesthood in Ireland. By 2040 it is estimated, given current age demographics, there will only be 400 odd priests in Ireland compared to 2,300 now.

It is the same all over the world and Pope Francis sees the writing on the wall as clearly as anyone, which is why his comments are so significant.

When asked in an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica Daily whether priests would ever be allowed to marry, the pope said that celibacy was instituted “900 years after Our Lord’s death” and mentioned that clerics can marry in some Eastern Churches under Vatican tutelage.

“There definitely is a problem, but it is not a major one. This needs time, but there are solutions and I will find them,” said Pope Francis.

The Irish Independent reports the pope did not go on to explain what those solutions could be.

During the interview, he also called child sex abuse a “leprosy” in the church, citing his aides as saying that “the level of pedophilia in the church is at two percent.”

He was speaking as he was ordained Bishop of Elphin at a ceremony in Sligo yesterday.This was the third interview in a series with the 90-year-old journalist and known atheist Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica Daily.

His comments came in advance of plea by Kevin Doran, a priest in Sligo, who asked parishioners to find potential priests among men they know and get them to contact the Catholic Church as numbers continue to fall.