When Pope Francis is interviewed, he has a way of making headlines. Last week, the media was abuzz with Francis’ seeming openness to a conversation about the possibility of ordaining married men. Sometimes, however, the media overreacts, for the truth is that this is neither a new idea nor a new conversation.
Bishop Tobin was referenced in media reports as stating that the idea of ordaining married men in limited numbers has been discussed for decades as a possible solution in parts of the world where people are deprived of the sacraments on a regular basis because of a severe shortage of priests. What’s more, the Church already has a tradition of ordaining some married men to the priesthood. In our own diocese, a former Episcopal priest who was married converted to Catholicism and served as a priest here before retiring three years ago. The Church, recognizing his call to ministry, went forward and ordained him a Catholic priest.
Priestly celibacy is a gift to the Church. There is a powerful sign-value to celibacy: it points people to eternal life with the Lord as our true home. Pope Francis was clear that he believes optional celibacy is not the answer; only prayer and the active promoting of priestly vocations by priests and laity alike can remedy the shortage of priests. But this conversation about the possibility of ordaining married men for ministry in isolated communities is not new and it is certainly not scandalous. So don’t be shocked by the headlines when the media attempts to make this a bigger issue than it really is.