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 Jeanne Smits /

January 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Flying home from World Youth Day on Sunday, Pope Francis made comments appearing to open the door to the ordination of married men in the Latin Rite who live in remote places.

“Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church,” he said, adding that he does not agree “with allowing optional celibacy, no.” He offered, however, that there are instances when married Latin Rite clergy may be allowed in remote places “when there is a pastoral necessity” due to a lack of priests. These would include Oceania and the Amazonian region of South America.

Admitting that he has not prayed enough about the issue to make a decision, the Pope said he would not want to put himself “before God with this decision,” even if it means that he is judged to be “close-minded.”

The pope spoke to the works of Bishop Emeritus Fritz Lobinger of Aliwal, South Africa, who examined the possibility of ordaining married “proven men” – viri probati – to serve in regions where Catholics would otherwise be deprived of the Eucharist. Lobinger suggested that these married priests could administer the sacraments and celebrate Mass, even while they would not have full competency of other priests.

Lobinger, Pope Francis recalled, “says the church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the church. In the islands in the Pacific, Lobinger [asks], ‘who makes the Eucharist’ in these places? Who leads in these communities? It’s the deacons, the religious sisters, or the laity. So Lobinger asks whether an elder, a married man, could be ordained, but only to perform the sanctifying role: to say Mass, give the sacrament of reconciliation, and the anointing of the sick.”

“Priestly ordination gives three munera [functions]: regendi [governing], that that commands; docendi [teaching], that that teaches, and santificandi [sanctifying]. This comes with ordination. But the bishop gives them [the viri probati] only the license of santificandi. The book [of Lobinger] is interesting,” said Pope Francis. “And maybe it could help to think about the problem. I believe that the problem should be open in this sense: where there is a pastoral problem due to the lack of priests. I do not say that it should be done, because I have not reflected, I have not prayed sufficiently on this. But the theology should be studied.”

The pope suggested: “optional celibacy before the diaconate, no…I would not do it. And this remains clear.” He said: “It is something to study, think, rethink, and pray about.”

“I believe that the issue must be open in this sense: where there is a pastoral problem because of the lack of priests,” said the pontiff. “I will not say that it must be done. Because I have not reflected, I have not prayed sufficiently over this. But the theologians must study.”

Regarding the ordination of married men (viri probati), the Pope alluded to the practice in Eastern Rite churches.

“In the Eastern Catholic churches, they can do it. They make the choice between celibacy or marrying, before they’re ordained into the diaconate. When it comes to the Latin Rite, however, a phrase said by St. Paul VI comes to mind; he said, ‘I would rather give my life than to change the law on celibacy.’ He said this at an even tougher time [than today] in 1969-1970.”

The Pope was asked to reflect on the example set by Pope Benedict XVI, who created the Anglican Ordinariate. The Ordinariate allows married Anglican priests to become Catholic priests.

Pope Francis said, “the [married] Anglican clergy who became Catholic priests, continued to live in this way as if they were from the Eastern Catholic churches.”

“I remember in a Wednesday audience that I saw many men with a collar, but many women and children with them, in the hands of the priests, and they explained it to me,” he recalled.