However, the Pope insists he is not advocating removing the celibacy requirement from the priesthood. Rather he said he was willing to consider whether “viri probati”, married men of proven faith, could be ordained.
He made his comments in German newspaper Die Zeit “We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities,” he was quoted as saying.
The Associated Press pointed out that while the viri probati proposal had been around for decades, it had drawn fresh attention under the Pope thanks in part to his appreciation of the challenges facing the Church in places like Brazil, a huge Catholic country with an acute shortage of priests.
It said Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a friend of Francis and former head of the Vatican’s office for clergy, is reportedly pressing to allow viri probati in the Amazon, where the Church counts around one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.
The Association of Catholic Priests said the traditional notion of the celibate is “clearly not working”.
“Something will have to be done,” a spokesman said. “Inviting back those priests who left and got married would be a first step and the viri probati would be another.
“Within the next two decades priest numbers in Ireland will plummet, with a tiny, ageing cohort of clergy struggling to say Mass in multiple parishes.
"The present ‘clustering strategy’, unimaginative and unrealistic, is no more than a short-term solution to the management of inevitable decline.”