While Pope Francis might consider ordaining certain men of proven virtue, who happen to be married, to serve in remote communities, he reiterated that ditching priestly celibacy wouldn't solve the priest shortage crisis.
Pope Francis was asked by a German newspaper in an interview published March 9 whether ordaining married men would be an answer to the lack of clergy. The Holy Father responded, "We have to give a thought to whether viri probati [men of proven virtue] are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in isolated areas."
The Roman Pontiff quickly clarified that priestly celibacy was a virtue that frees men to fully serve God and that discarding it wouldn't fix the priest shortage: "Voluntary celibacy is often discussed in this context, especially in places where there are shortages of clerics. But voluntary celibacy is not a solution."
The Catholic Code of Canon Law explains that celibacy is a gift that allows a priest to give himself totally over to the service of God and neighbor. Canon 277 describes celibacy as "a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity."
This canon explains Scripture, which attests that married men must be at the service of their immediate family — a situation that restricts their ability to serve the flock of Christ. Saint Paul in I Corinthians 7:32–33 writes, "He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided."
In the German interview, Pope Francis explained that allowing some married men to be ordained wouldn't mean that men who were already ordained priests could then get married. He viewed optional celibacy as a detriment to priestly service and not the answer to any current priest shortage.
In the early days of the Church, the disciples saw the value of being totally free from all human care in order to serve God completely. The reason we have deacons is to free up priests from all natural or secular service. In the Acts of the Apostles 6:1, the disciples speak of this very issue: "Then the twelve calling together the multitude of the disciples, said: It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables."
Watch the panel discuss the pros and cons of married clergy in The Download—Married Priests?