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Pope opposes making priestly celibacy optional, but is open to exceptions

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Pope said the prospect of married priests could be considered in remote areas that lack clergy

Pope Francis has said he opposes making priestly celibacy optional, however he may consider allowing married men to be ordained priests in remote areas.

Speaking to journalists on the flight back from World Youth Day, the Pope said he would not allow optional celibacy in the Latin Church in a way similar to the practice of the Eastern Catholic churches.

“In the Eastern rite, they can do it. They make the choice between celibacy or marriage before they’re ordained into the diaconate,” he said. “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.'”

The Pope said he personally believes that “celibacy is gift to the Church” and that while the prospect of married priests could one day be considered in remote areas that lack priests, he did not agree “with allowing optional celibacy.”

“My decision is: no optional celibacy,” the Pope said. “I will not do this. I don’t feel like I could stand before God with this decision.”

Speaking on next month’s abuse summit, the Pope said he perceived “inflated expectations” about the meeting. The main purpose of the summit, he said, was to make bishops “aware of the tragedy” of abuse.

“I regularly meet with people who have been abused. I remember one person — 40 years old — who was unable to pray,” he said. “It is terrible, the suffering is terrible. So, first, they (the bishops) need to be made aware of this.”

The Pope said his Council of Cardinals suggested the summit after realizing that some bishops did not know how to address or handle the crisis on their own.

“We felt the responsibility of giving a ‘catechesis’ on this problem to the bishops’ conferences,” he said.

The meeting will address “in a clear way” what protocols bishops need to follow when handling sexual abuse, he added.

Asked about the expectations for the meeting, especially the expectations of Catholics who have grown frustrated with the repeated reports of abuse and cover-up by some bishops, the Pope said people need to realize “the problem of abuse will continue.”

“It is a human problem, a human problem [that is] everywhere,” he said.

But if the church becomes more aware of the tragedy of sexual abuse, the Pope said, it can help others face the crisis of abuse, especially in families “where shame leads to covering up everything.”

CNS contributed to this story