Pope Francis says no to women’s access to the priesthood. And regarding celibacy for priests, he explains that “a Pope could decide that it becomes optional”, but he won’t be the one to do it. The Pontiff clarified this in the interview book released today in bookstores by Salani editions “You are not alone. Challenges, answers, hopes”, created in recent months in Argentina by journalists Francesca Ambrogetti, former head of ANSA in the South American country, and Sergio Rubin of the newspaper The clarin.
Celibacy not compulsory? “My successor will arrange it”
Is celibacy optional and therefore no longer obligatory for priests? “Let my successor arrange it, if he deems it appropriate. Of course, it is clear that if one lives it badly, celibacy is torture, it becomes impossible. But it is no less true that if one lives it with the fruitfulness of the ministry he has chosen, it is not only bearable, but also beautiful. It is obvious that a vocation is needed,” Pope Francis clarified. In any case, there were those in the Church who feared that the access of married men to the priesthood would open the door to optional celibacy. Isn’t it time to consider it yet? “Everyone is free to think what they want, but it seems to me that they are two different things. Celibacy, as I have already said, is a disciplinary matter, which implies that a Pope could arrange for it to become optional. As it is, in fact, in Eastern rite churches. But even Orientals, despite being more religious, have divorce problems. Furthermore, married Anglican priests with children who transition to Catholicism remain priests. However, on this point, I respect the tradition of the Western Church. And as I have already pointed out, it is a requirement that has nothing to do with sexual abuse.”
The female priesthood, “a theological problem”
According to the Pope, however, that of the female priesthood “is a theological problem”. A woman cannot access the priesthood “because she is not entitled to the Petrine principle, but rather to the Marian one, which is more important (…) The fact therefore that a woman does not access ministerial life is not a deprivation, because her place is much more important”. A woman could become a cardinal because “the cardinalate is not connected to the sacrament of orders, but rather to the function of advisor to the Pope”, explains Francis, but “a cardinal can elect the Pontiff. And the pope is chosen by the bishops because he is bishop of a diocese, he is bishop of Rome. The important thing therefore is that the electors are bishops, not cardinals”, continues the Pontiff. “In fact, I could issue a decree that modifies the requirements for entering the conclave and allows a bishop who is not a cardinal to participate. From a dogmatic point of view there would be no problems. But, clearly, if a woman cannot access the priesthood, much less will she be able to access the episcopate”. There is no shortage of those who believe that the ordination of women could bring more people closer to the Church and optional celibacy would make it possible to address the shortage of priests. “I don’t agree with these reasonings”, is the Pope’s reply. “The Lutherans ordain women, but the people who go to church are still few. Their priests can marry, but despite this they are unable to increase the number of ministers. The problem is cultural. We must not be naive and think that programmatic changes will bring us the solution. Mere ecclesiastical reforms do not serve to resolve fundamental issues. Rather, what is needed are paradigmatic changes.”
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