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Pope Francis mulls allowing older, married men to become priests

The pope has said that older, married men of "proven character" could be ordained, as long as they agree to be celibate. The Catholic Church is facing a dire shortage of priests, especially in some remote areas.

Pope Francis has indicated he is open to the idea of older married men joining the priesthood. He said, however, that celibacy must still be a necessary practice amongst the clergy.

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The church has been struggling in recent decades to recruit enough priests to serve all of its parishes. According to a 2015 study, between the years 1980 and 2012 the world's population of Catholics rose by a staggering 57 percent, or 445 million people. At the same time, the number of priests fell by 17 percent, or 20,547 men.

Speaking with German newspaper "Die Zeit," the pontiff said there had been some discussion over whether the church was ready to accept "viri probati" - a Latin phrase for men of proven maturity and moral character - to fill the gap. The phrase, which dates back to a first-century letter written by Pope Clement I, implies men who would be older, and whose families would already be grown.

"We have to give a thought to whether viri probati are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in isolated areas, for example," "Die Zeit" quoted Francis as saying. His longtime friend, the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, is reportedly already looking into how the practice could be implemented in the Amazon region, where there is only about 1 priest for every 10,000 faithful.

Ending celibacy 'not a solution'

The pontiff added, however, that celibacy was an integral part of devoting oneself to the church, and was non-negotiable.

"Voluntary celibacy is often discussed in this context, especially in places where there are shortages of clerics. But voluntary celibacy is not a solution," the pope said.

Francis has made it a point to minister to men who have left the priesthood to get married and start families. He also maintains a close friendship with an Argentine widow whose husband had befriended Francis when they were both young priests.

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es/se (AP, Reuters)

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