Pope Francis has suggested he may be open to ordaining married men to address the shortage of Catholic priests in some remote areas.
In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit published earlier this week, Pope Francis said he is not advocating ending the celibacy rule for men who are already priests in the church, but he would be open to studying whether “vidi probati” could be ordained to perform certain task.
“Viri probati” is a Latin term for “tested men,” meaning married men of proven faith and virtue.
"We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities," said Pope Francis.
This option would allow men who are already married to be ordained, but men who are already priests would not be allowed to married, reports the Associated Press.
"Voluntary celibacy is not a solution," said the pope.
This proposal has been on the table for decades, but is now attracting new attention due to the challenges facing the church in places like Brazil, a country with a large population of Catholics but an acute shortage of priests.
According to the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate, there are roughly 8,000 Catholics per priest in Brazil, the New York Times reports. In the United States, there are currently about 2,500 Catholics per priest.
Pope Francis, who said there is little possibility for allowing women to become priests, called the crisis an “enormous problem.”
The pope has noted that married men are already allowed to be ordained priests in the Catholic Church. For example, married Protestant ministers who convert to Catholicism can continue to be married and be a Roman Catholic priest. Priests in the eastern rite Catholic Church are also allowed to be married.
Pope Francis has previously praised celibacy, saying: “For now, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all the pros and cons that come with it, because in 10 centuries there have been more positive experiences than errors.”