“Resolving the problem in the church, we will help resolve it in society, and in families, where shame leads to cover up,” he said.
Some Catholics have called for the church to reconsider the requirement of celibacy for priests, calling it a stressor that can lead to abuse. But Francis reiterated his opposition to lifting the celibacy rule, saying it was“a gift for the church” that should not “be optional.” He cited the words of Pope Paul VI, now a saint, who said, “I prefer to give my life before changing the law on celibacy.”
But Francis showed some openness to allowing married men to serve as priests in remote areas, like the islands of the Pacific, where there are few clergymen to administer the sacraments. In exceptional circumstances, it was right to at least study the question, and pray for guidance, he said.
Another closely watched meeting will be held in October for bishops of the Amazon region, where there is a shortage of priests. One of the topics of discussion at that meeting is expected to be the possibility of ordaining older married men to the priesthood, in cases of exceptional pastoral necessity.
Despite decades of scandals involving the sexual abuse of minors by priests, the Catholic Church does not have universal rules to respond to accusations.
In 2011, the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued directives telling bishops they had to establish “clear and coordinated” procedures for fighting clerical sex abuse by the following year. The response to this mandate, however, has been spotty.
“If in some countries much has been done, drastically reducing the number of cases of abuse and setting out efficacious programs of prevention and formation, we need to recognize that in many other countries, little, if anything, has been done,” wrote Rev. Federico Lombardi, the former director of the Vatican’s press office, in the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica last month.
At the pope’s request, Father Lombardi will moderate the meeting in February.