A Vatican official has said that he thinks the Catholic Church’s priestly celibacy requirement in the Latin rite should be revised.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who serves as the archbishop of Malta and is an assistant secretary at the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in an interview published Jan. 7 that the Church should “think seriously about” changing the Western discipline.
“If it were up to me, I would revise the requirement that priests have to be celibate,” he said, according to a captioned Maltese-language video interview by the Times of Malta.
“This is probably the first time I’m saying it publicly and it will sound heretical to some people,” he added.
The 64-year-old archbishop said that the Church should learn from the Eastern Churches, which allow married men the option to get ordained to the priesthood.
“Why should we lose a young man who would have made a fine priest, just because he wanted to get married? And we did lose good priests just because they chose marriage,” he said.
Scicluna, who has personally handled multiple investigations into clerical sex abuse on behalf of the Vatican’s doctrine office, made the comments when asked about Catholic priests in Malta who have secret relationships and have fathered illegitimate children.
“This is a global reality; it doesn’t just happen in Malta. We know there are priests around the world who also have children and I think there are ones in Malta who may have too,” Scicluna said.
“A man may mature, engage in relationships, love a woman. As it stands, he must choose between her and priesthood, and some priests cope with that by secretly engaging in sentimental relationships,” he said.
Scicluna, who was a delegate at the Synod on Synodality assembly last fall, added that he has previously spoken openly in Rome about his views on priestly celibacy.
Priestly celibacy discussed at Synod on Synodality
The requirement of priestly celibacy was openly discussed at the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon region, but in the end, Pope Francis chose not to mention celibacy in his postsynodal apostolic exhortation.
The topic came up again during the 2023 Synod on Synodality assembly at the Vatican in October. The assembly’s synthesis report has asked whether it is necessary to maintain the discipline of priestly celibacy in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church and called for the question to be taken up again in the next assembly in October 2024, noting that “different assessments were expressed” on the topic during the first synod assembly.
Pope Francis on priestly celibacy
In an interview for a book published in October, Pope Francis pushed back against the idea that changes to Church practice such as introducing female deacons or optional priestly celibacy would help boost vocations.
Asked about women’s ordination bringing “more people closer to the Church” and optional priestly celibacy helping with priest shortages, Pope Francis said he does not share these views.
“Lutherans ordain women, but still few people go to church,” Pope Francis said. “Their priests can marry, but despite that, they can’t grow the number of ministers. The problem is cultural. We should not be naive and think that programmatic changes will bring us the solution.”
“Mere ecclesiastical reforms do not serve to solve underlying issues. Rather, paradigmatic changes are what is needed,” he added, pointing to his 2019 letter to German Catholics for further considerations on the issue.