Pope Francis directly addressed the issue of priest celibacy for the first time since his election as Pope while on his way back from a historic trip to the Middle East.
He told reporters on Monday, “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 a dogma, the door is always open."
The pope has hinted that the practice of priest celibacy is open to change before, but this was his most explicit public statement on the subject since becoming Pope.
Last fall, Francis' secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also seemed open to the idea of discussing a change in the policy towards married priests when he explained that celibacy "is not a church dogma and it can be discussed because it is a church tradition.”
During his chat with reporters, Pope Francis took the opportunity to condemn sexual abuse by priests, comparing it to a "satanic Mass." He has created a commission to investigate priest abuse and institute reforms, though the UN has harshly criticized the Vatican for its current set of policies.
Some proponents of optional celibacy link priest abuse to sexual frustration, arguing that less abuse would occur if celibacy was not mandatory. However, the Church rejects this argument, claiming that abuse happens due to psychological problems, reports the Times of Malta.
Earlier this month, Francis reportedly addressed the issue of priest celibacy during a conversation with a bishop from Brazil, Austrian-born Erwin Krautler, whose diocese faces a shortage of priests. According to Krautler, "The pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be ‘corajudos,’ that is ‘courageous’ in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions."