Pope Francis - then Cardinal Bergoglio - on priestly celibacy and the response to the sexual abuse scandals


Of paritcular note:

In the Western Church to which I belong, priests cannot be married as in the Byzantine, Ukrainian, Russian or Greek Catholic Churches. In those Churches, the priests can be married, but the bishops have to be celibate. They are very good priests. Sometimes I joke with them and tell them that they have wives at home but they did not realize that they also got a mother-in-law as part of the bargain. In Western Catholicism, some organizations are pushing for more discussion about the issue. For now, the discipline of celibacy stands firm. Some say, with a certain pragmatism, that we are losing manpower. If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option.

For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures. What happens is that the scandals have an immediate impact. Tradition has weight and validity.


The idea that pedophilia is a consequence of celibacy is ruled out. More than seventy percent of cases of pedophilia occur in the family and neighborhood: grandparents, uncles, stepfathers, neighbors. The problem is not linked to celibacy. If a priest is a pedophile, he is so before he is a priest.

Now, when that happens, we must never turn a blind eye. You cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person. In the diocese it never happened to me, but a bishop once called me to ask me by phone what to do in a situation like that and I told him to take away the priests’ licenses, not to allow them to exercise the priesthood any more, and to begin a canonical trial in that diocese’s court. I think that’s the attitude to have. I do not believe in taking positions that uphold a certain corporative spirit in order to avoid damaging the image of the institution. That solution was proposed once in the United States: they proposed switching the priests to a different parish. It is a stupid idea; that way, the priest just takes the problem with him wherever he goes. The corporate reaction leads to such a result, so I do not agree with those solutions. Recently, there were cases uncovered in Ireland from about twenty years ago, and the present Pope [Benedict XVI] clearly said: “Zero tolerance for that crime.” I admire the courage and uprightness of Pope Benedict on the subject.

Thanks for the quotes.

Thanks :slight_smile:

Sounds like the APope may be open in the future to making celibacy optional. At least having a study done. This would help with reunification with the Orthodox.

As it would be optional it wouldn’t impact the FSSP and such.

I have one 30ish priest friend who wondered if he does this will it be retroactive. I’d doubt that.

It couldn’t be retroactive since even in the Eastern Churches (Orthodox and Catholic) men are not allowed to marry after ordination.

It doesn’t look to me as though Pope Frances would be open to making celibacy optional. He sounds more con than pro. Avoiding having a mother-in-law is a really good reason to be celibate!

Can you expand more on this? I wasn’t aware that celibacy was an issue with the Orthodox churches since those Eastern churches in communion with Rome do not follow the celibate discipline. Is it really an issue? Curious.

It’s been an issue in the US where Eastern Rites have been forced to not ordain married men.

A reunion would probably see an expansion of Orthodoxy in the US for instance. The Orthodox would not accept not being able to ordain married men here.

Over time as that became more the norm there would be an inevitable re-look at celibacy in the Latin Rite.

Don’t forget, Peter was married as were most early priests and bishops too.

I’ve heard, and an Orthodox poster needs to correct me if I’m wrong, that some in the Orthodox Church want an optional celibacy too for bishops. Right now bishops are only chosen from the celibate priesthood. It’s be a return to the ancient practice for them too.

Honestly, I think the Pope is against changing it universally, and is certainly not for changing it for the sake of ‘gaining more vocations’ which is the main reason people argue for the removal of celibacy.

In Western Catholicism, some organizations are pushing for more discussion about the issue. For now, the discipline of celibacy stands firm. Some say, with a certain pragmatism, that we are losing manpower. If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option.

The fact that he emphasizes cultural reasons, while saying that it would not be a universal option makes me think of how it is currently being implemented, with protestants who come from a culture of married pastors coming into the Church being given permission to have married men become priests. This really doesn’t sound as though he is going to be making big changes here, imo.

Also, I disagree with you that universally removing the tradition of priestly celibacy would help with reunification. I think the fact that this pope is able to speak about married priests without being horrified or upset at the idea is what is going to help with that. Why would the East care whether or not we follow their traditions? So long as we are not hostile towards their traditions. :shrug:

I particularly found it interesting that the main reason Pope Francis gives for keeping priestly celibacy is Tradition. For all you lovers of tradition, this does not sound like a man who is going to try and overturn Benedicts work to encourage the EF and other traditional practices, this is a man who deeply respects tradition, he does not advocate change for the sake of change. :thumbsup:

Even in the Roman Catholic Church, marriage after ordination is forbidden (permanent deacons) except for very specific dispensations (e.g. the care of very young children).

It sounds like the opposite.

I listened to an interview with Fr Dwight Longenecker this morning. He is a former evangelical, former Anglican priest who is now a (married) Catholic priest. He blogs about life in the priesthood and as a married priest commented on the supposed willingness of Pope Francis to change this discipline. He said that because it’s discipline not dogma it is possible to make exceptions such as for him. But he does not see this happening. The theory of opening up the priesthood to married men is as Pope Francis noted above, not because of the sex abuse scandal but as a worldwide church to consider cultural differences. He said in some cultures if a man is NOT married, he is not considered a man. Thus to have vocations, there might be a consideration in certain rare cases.

I agree with the poster, that Pope Francis seems more no than go. I also love the way he addressed the sexual abuse issue as opposed to moving the priests around or trying to hide the problem to protect the institution. We are very blessed to have this new Holy Father guiding the Church.


I don’t think this would help with reunification at all. If the Orthodox are reunified, they will be in their own appropriate Catholic Churches, or there will perhaps be new ones created, and Eastern Catholic priests can already marry. If the Orthodox reunify, they are not going to become Latin Catholics.

He seems to have a nice sense of humor, this Pope Francis. (In the way that he jokes with his colleagues a bit…I read another instance where he was doing the same)
He’s very likeable!

The new pope is quoted as saying “If a priest is a pedophile, he is so before he is a priest.”

I agree. But might not a pedophile’s reason for choosing the priesthood have something to do with wishing to avoid normal sexuality in favor of an abnormal kind? That would be a link between priestly celibacy and pedophilia, albeit of a different kind. If married men were allowed to become priests (as in eastern-right Catholic churches) and priests allowed to marry, as in Anglican churches, then the use of the priesthood as a way of avoiding normal sexual expectations would not be there. Why have there not been so many complaints of pedophilia among Protestant ministers?

The abuse all happened in the past. The reason there continues to be scandals about it is because more cases continue to come to light, since they were hushed up they can come to light this many years later. But it certainly is not currently a widespread problem within the priesthood, even though the priesthood is still celibate.

If that were so, the rate of pedophilia in the Church would be higher than in general society, and it is not.

In fact what pedophiles seek is not avoidance of normal sexuality (by say becoming a priest), but access to their victims, which implies positions of authority or proximity to their victims. Many of the victims of pedophile priests were taught by them in schools run by religious congregations and orders. Many children that were victims to pedophiles outside the Church were attacked by their teachers, sports coaches, scout leaders and close relatives, many if not most of which were, guess what… married. Moreover the rate of pedophilia in non-Catholic churches, which do allow marriage, is comparable to the rate in the Catholic Church.

So your theory doesn’t hold water I’m afraid, on the basis of fact.


Also, for that to work, a married priesthood would have to be REQUIRED (otherwise, if a priest remains single, people would treat him with suspicion).

Intense psychological screening of seminarians is what keeps pedophiles out of the priesthood, not requiring them to be married. For many years we didn’t have this, as illustrated in the book “Good bye, good men.” Seminaries are doing this again (screening candidates), so I’m sure we’re going to see less and less of this scandal, as new cases will be few, and the old ones will have all come to light and been dealt with.

In Christ,

Where does one find statistical data on rates of pedophilia among Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, married teachers, and others? You tacitly claim to be aware of such data. It would seem to me that there would be great difficulties in collecting data on this since probably nearly all pedophiles conceal their condition.

I love my mother-in-law. My husband and my mother were very good friends, He was so kind to her as she aged. I love my children’s spouses and I trust that they love me.

My personal observation has been that when a daughter’s mother dislikes her son-in-law it is because he mistreats her daughter. I was not a pleasant mother-in-law to my daughter’s first husband, He was cruel to her. Her present husband is a good man and we have a very good relationship,

It is important to know that when a man or woman is actively trying to separate their spouse from their family and parents they may be isolating their victim. This is generally the first step in a pattern of abuse.

I think some of that data is available in the John Jay study - at least statistics based on rates in the priesthood vs the general population (which include those other categories.)

If a pastor of First Christian Church is accused of pedophilia there isn’t necessarily a larger group to associate him with (ie the Lutheran church). That may be one of the reasons statistics aren’t correlated. I assume an internet search would turn up some reporting however.

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