VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis said this week that while he personally believed Roman Catholic priests should remain celibate, he could see a future in which they are allowed to marry, as they can in some other Christian faiths. When his idle comment received pushback from some of the more conservative corners of the Church, he suggested a compromise, by which priests were allowed conjugal visits instead.
“Celibacy is not a dogma,” he explained. “It is a rule of life that I appreciate very much and I think it is a gift for the Church but since it is not dogma, the door is always open.”
When asked how he imagined such a system might work, Pope Francis said he would leave the details up to others, but he quickly emphasized that he would not condone a plan that relied on the participation of Catholic nuns. “I can envision, on a purely physical level, the need for some of our brothers to unburden themselves of certain base, animal instincts in order to better concentrate on our life with God,” he said. “But it would not be appropriate to use our sisters for this purpose.”
Welcoming the pope’s comments was the Bishop of Bruges Jozef De Kesel, who has questioned the need for priestly celibacy in the past. “I think that the Church should ask itself if the mandatory character of the rules governing celibacy should be upheld,” he said. “Priests may be answering a higher calling, but they are still human males. Some are simply incapable of remaining celibate, and we’ve all seen where that can lead. Perhaps if they had an authorized outlet for their pent-up needs, things would be a little different.”
Indeed, some voices have pressured the Catholic Church to change its policy towards priestly celibacy under the charge that sexual frustrations could drive some priests to sexually abuse children. The Church, however, has rejected these arguments, stating that pedophilia is only carried out by people with psychological problems.
“This has nothing to do with the unfortunate business which has occurred between a few of our disturbed brothers and their underage charges,” declared Pope Francis. “It is simply an acknowledgment that there are some priests for whom the chance to clear their mind and body of sinful thoughts and desires in a highly-controlled, constantly-monitored, and self-contained environment would be spiritually beneficial.
“They certainly wouldn’t enjoy it,” he added.