Yesterday the Catholic Internet was all a-Twitter with the news that Pope Francis, in an interview with a German newspaper, had signaled "openness" to ordaining people the Church refers to as viri probati ("proven" men, typically understood as married men). Conveniently, the entire interview had not yet been published, only the tantalizing hints. (The full text was scheduled for release today, but since I (a) cannot read German and (b) will not pay to access the "exklusiv" interview in said language I cannot verify anything right now.)
Also conveniently, the Pope has just begun his annual silent retreat (at the Pauline retreat house overlooking Lake Albano) and cannot be reached for clarification.
According to yesterday's Crux summary of the papal interview, the context of the reference to viri probati concerned the diaconate, which seems a bit strange, since the permanent diaconate is already open to married men (even though the permanent diaconate is not as well established worldwide as it is in the US). With regard to the priesthood specifically, the Pope was more circumspect, remarking that a priority should be on helping young men discern the call to priesthood and saying (yet again) that making priestly celibacy optional is not the answer that many people seem to think it is.
The article in Crux and some of the online conversations I saw were quick to affirm that most of the Eastern Churches ordain married men. No one seems to be wondering what the priesthood asks of those married men (and their wives), but Byzantine Father Thomas Loya, the son and grandson of Byzantine priests, explained in one of our Theology of the Body sessions years ago that in the Eastern Churches, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy involves much more than getting up early on Sunday to preside at a (very long) Liturgy. Following the recommendation of St Paul in 1 Cor 7:5, the priestly couple abstain from the marital embrace in anticipation of the Divine Liturgy, which is the earthly manifestation of the Wedding of the Lamb. Given the mutual sacrifice asked of a priest and his wife, it is easier
to understand why daily Mass did not become a staple in the Eastern
Churches! Father's own mother and grandmother had been the daughters of priests, so they also grew up with an appreciation of the role of the priest's wife in the life of the Church.
But I digress.
Pope Francis is becoming rather famous for throwing out zingers and then not being around to settle the matter once an uproar starts. I am beginning to think that there is a method here. Among the Pope's most cherished values is that of "dialogue." (Read my 5 Keys e-book; it has been there from the beginning.)
Pope Francis wants us to talk, discuss, respectfully debate. He doesn't mind a dust-up. He seems to believe that the wind of the Holy Spirit breathes among us more fully when the Church is grappling with the Gospel, when our expectations are suspended and our usual reference points temporarily set aside. It isn't comfortable, but maybe that is part of the Pope's method.
I strongly suspect that the Pope is trying to shake us all out of our stolid certainties to awaken us, no matter what "side" of a question we find ourselves on, to the greater grace God may be offering the Church in our day. Any insecurity we feel can be an invitation to trust even more that it is not the Pope, but the Holy Spirit, who is really in charge, and whom we can trust unconditionally.