Pope Francis has stated on Thursday that he is open to the idea of ordaining married men to the priesthood to address the shortage of priests in remote areas.
In an interview with German weekly Die Zeit, the pope said that removing the celibacy rule could not solve the problem of priest shortage, but he admitted that he was open to studying the ordination of "viri probati" or married men of proven faith.
"We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities," said Francis.
The pope acknowledged that the priest shortage had become an "enormous problem," and he said that the first response must be prayer along with an intense focus on "working with young people who are seeking orientation."
In 2014, Francis noted that there are already married priests in the church, citing Anglican ministers who converted as well as Coptic Catholics and priests of some eastern churches.
The Catholic Church had previously said that celibacy was not a matter of inflexible church dogma unlike the resurrection of Christ. But the pope maintained that allowing priests in training to choose whether or not to be celibate was "not the solution."
According to a report from ABC, the proposal to ordain married men has been around for decades, but it was brought up again due in part to the pope's appreciation of the challenges faced by the church in places like Brazil, a huge Catholic country with an acute shortage of priests.
Francis warned that the lack of priests weakens the Church "because a Church without the Eucharist doesn't have strength - the Church makes the Eucharist, but the Eucharist also makes the Church."
Last year, the pope spent some time visiting men who had left the priesthood in order to start families. There had been rumors that Francis might devote the next Synod of Bishops in 2018 to the issue of married priests, but he had decided that the focus of the gathering will be on youth, faith and vocational discernment.
In another part of the interview, Pope Francis warned against the rise of populism in the West. "Populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century has shown," he said, adding that it means "using the people" by offering them a messiah.