Pope Francis says the Roman Catholic Church should start considering whether to let married men serve as priests in order to address a shortage of clergy, especially in remote areas.
In an interview with Germany's Die Zeit magazine, Francis said: "We must think about whether viri probati [married men of proven religious faith] are a possibility. Then we have to decide what tasks they can take on — for example, in remote communities."
Francis said allowing would-be priests to decide whether they wanted to remain celibate was not something he favored, but he suggested that was an issue for further discussion.
Many Roman Catholics believe that opening a new path to ordination for married men would help address the shortage of clergy in many parts of the world. Certain limited exceptions to the law of celibacy exist: The Vatican accepts married priests in Eastern Rite sects of the church, and it also has recognized married members of the Anglican or Episcopal churches who convert to Catholicism as valid priests.
The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, whose members serve in American parishes, welcomed the pope's thoughts as expressed in the article published Thursday.
In his first major interview with a German publication, Francis also was asked whether he ever doubted the existence of God, even briefly. "I, too, know moments of emptiness," he responded.
The pope noted that such periods of crisis enable spiritual growth, and he added that he would think any believer who does not experience such moments of doubt has an "infantile" religious faith.
Francis spoke out strongly against the rise of populism in the West, as he has in the past. "Populism is evil and and ends badly, as the past century showed," Die Zeit quoted him as saying, in an apparent reference to fascism and Soviet communism.