Pope Francis affirmed the value of the priestly vow of celibacy, calling it a “gift to the Church” and “not optional.”
“By celibacy the Church manifests the desire for its priests to be holy. Chastity in the priesthood, contrary to being a defense against love, is the charism of perfect love, of a love which, like God’s, is prevenient, gratuitous, universal.”
Pope Francis’ comments came aboard the papal plane from Panama to Rome, having just left the celebration of World Youth Day 2019. Asked about making priestly celibacy optional as is done in the Eastern Rite, he said:
“Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church. I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy, no. My decision is: no optional celibacy. I will not do this. When it comes to the Latin rite, a phrase said by St. Paul VI comes to mind: ‘I would rather give my life than change the law on celibacy.'”
However, Pope Francis did entertain the possibility of considering married clergy in the Latin rite, ordaining older married men in “very far places” when there is a “pastoral necessity” e.g. the Pacific Islands.
“There could only be a possibility in these far, far-away places, I think about the islands in the Pacific, but it’s something to think about, when there’s a pastoral need, there the shepherd has to think about the faithful.”
The Holy Father said the possibility of considering optional celibacy before the diaconate is “something to study, think, rethink, and pray about,” and that he does not want to put himself “before God with this decision.”
“I think the problem should be opened in this sense: Where there’s a pastoral problem because of a lack of priests. I’m not saying it should be done, because I haven’t reflected or prayed enough about it. But theologians must study it.”