Pope Francis At One Time Said Celibacy Rules Could Change

Wednesday, 20 Mar 2013 03:15 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio revealed in a candid interview before he became Pope Francis that he was once tempted by a woman and suggested the rigid celibacy law governing priests could be changed.

The pontiff’s stunning admissions — published in the Spanish-language book “On the Heavens and the Earth” and translated and reported by the Catholic news agency Aleteia — have Catholics wondering if there may be major policy changes ahead at the Vatican.

“When I was a seminarian, I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle’s wedding. I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance . . . and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while,” Bergoglio, then archbishop of Buenos Aires, gushed in the interview.

“I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing.”

He said that because he was still a seminarian, “I could have gone back home and that was it. I had to think about my choice again.”

Bergoglio, who was elected Pope last week, added that “it would be abnormal for this kind of thing not to happen. . . . It’s a matter of one choosing again or saying, ‘No, what I’m feeling is very beautiful. I am afraid I won’t be faithful to my commitment later on, so I’m leaving the seminary.’”

He said when a seminarian he counsels faces a similar predicament, “I help him go in peace to be a good Christian and not a bad priest. In the Western Church to which I belong, priests cannot be married as in the Byzantine, Ukrainian, Russian, or Greek Catholic Churches.

“In those Churches, the priests can be married, but the bishops have to be celibate. They are very good priests. Sometimes I joke with them and tell them that they have wives at home, but they did not realize they also got a mother-in-law as part of the bargain.”

The pontiff-to-be noted that in Western Catholicism, some organizations are pushing for more discussion about the issue of celibacy.

“For now, the discipline of celibacy stands firm. Some say, with a certain pragmatism, that we are losing manpower. If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option.”

He said he remained in favor of maintaining celibacy “for the moment,” adding, “It is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change. Personally, it never crossed my mind to marry. But there are cases.”

He noted the case of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.

“He’s a brilliant guy. But as a bishop, he had a fall and resigned from the diocese. This decision was honest. Sometimes we see priests fall into this,” Bergoglio said in the interview.

He also spoke bluntly about fallen priests who have sex.

“If one of them comes and tells me that he got a woman pregnant, I listen. I try to help him have peace and little by little I try to help him realize that the natural law takes priority over his priesthood,” Bergoglio said.

“So, he has to leave the ministry and should take care of that child, even if he chooses not to marry that woman. For just as that child has the right to have a mother, he has a right to the face of a father. I commit myself to arranging all the paperwork for him in Rome, but he has to leave everything.

“Now, if a priest tells me he got excited and that he had a fall, I help him to get on track again. There are priests who get on track again and others who do not. Some, unfortunately, do not even tell the bishop.”

But Bergoglio dismissed the idea of the Catholic Church’s ongoing pedophilia scandals as being the consequence of celibacy.

“More than 70 percent of cases of pedophilia occur in the family and neighborhood: grandparents, uncles, stepfathers, neighbors. The problem is not linked to celibacy. If a priest is a pedophile, he is so before he is a priest,” he said.

“Now, when that happens, we must never turn a blind eye. You cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person.”

He also ripped the moving of predator priests as “a stupid idea; that way, the priest just takes the problem with him wherever he goes.”

Father Thomas Reese, a Vatican analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, told NBCNews.com he was surprised by Bergoglio’s remarks.

“The last few Popes have been pretty clear they were not open to changing it or having a discussion about it,” Reese told NBC. “It looks like he may be willing to talk about it.”

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