VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis said Monday that the celibacy of priests is not a matter of Church dogma, while defending its value amid calls among some Catholics for the requirement to be dropped.
Talking to reporters on his return flight from the Middle East, Pope Francis said "there are married priests in the Church" citing married Anglican ministers who joined the Catholic Church, Coptic Catholics and the priests of some Eastern churches.
The celibacy of priests "is not a dogma", the pontiff confirmed, apparently leaving the door open to debate on the subject.
The Church, and notably the current pope's predecessor Benedict XVI, had previously said that the celibacy issued was not a matter of unbendable church dogma unlike, for example, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One suggestion which has been made among church faithful is of the ordination of married men, especially retired men, who are already very engaged in church business.
It is not envisaged that single men could become priests and subsequently marry.
Last month US researchers said that an ancient piece of papyrus that contains a mention of Jesus' wife is not a forgery.
The fragment is believed to have come from Egypt and contains writing in the Coptic language that says, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...'" Another part reads: "She will be able to be my disciple." Its discovery in 2012 caused a stir. Since Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, it renewed long-running debates over celibacy and the role of women in the church.
The Vatican's newspaper declared it a fake, along with other scholars who doubted its authenticity based on its poor grammar, blurred text and uncertain origin.