A Vatican official has said that the Church should revise the requirement for priestly celibacy in the Latin rite.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, an adjunct secretary at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Vatican’s senior sex abuse investigator, told the Times of Malta 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.
“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 example of the Eastern Churches, which allow married men the option of ordination 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 October, added that he has previously spoken openly in Rome about his views on priestly celibacy.
The requirement for priestly celibacy was openly discussed at the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon region, but Pope Francis chose not to mention celibacy in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit.
The topic featured during the 2023 Synod on Synodality at the Vatican in October. The assembly’s synthesis report asked whether it is necessary to maintain the discipline of priestly celibacy in the Latin rite and called for the question to be addressed again in the next assembly in October 2024, noting that “different assessments were expressed” on the topic during the first synod assembly.
In an interview for a book published in October, Pope Francis opposed the idea that changes to Church practice such as introducing female deacons or optional priestly celibacy would help increase 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 naïve 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, citing his 2019 letter to German Catholics for further considerations on the issue.