This interview with Pope Francis by German weekly "Die Zeit," has opened the debate on the "viri probati," or "tested married men.”
However, they do not exist. It is a proposal that has been talked about for years, but has never been put into practice.
The expression, "viri probati,” is inspired from the first-century letter of a disciple of the apostles, St. Clement. In it, he explains how the early apostles chose their successors.
"And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labors], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe."
During the Second Vatican Council, some spoke of the "viri probati," but the potential idea was discarded.
The idea is that in situations of extreme lack of priests, married people with "proven" fidelity to the Catholic Church could be ordained.
Currently, two Brazilian bishops (Jaime Vieira Rocha, Erwin Kräutler) are requesting these sort of priests for large areas of the Amazon, where communities live for years without the Eucharist.
To understand the pope's response in this interview, one must understand the context of the question.
When "Die Zeit” asked about the crisis of vocations, Pope Francis responded that "optional celibacy is not the solution to the lack of vocations."
The journalist then asks if ordering a "viri probati" is a way to solve it. The pope replies as follows:
"We must think, if the "viri probati "are a possibility [to solve the problem]. But we must also decide what kind of functions to entrust to them, for example in isolated communities."
Then he explained that we should not be afraid of the truth and reasoning past decisions, because the truth sets us free.
Indeed, in the first centuries of Christianity there were married priests, but from the fourth century on the practice of celibacy was consolidated in the West.
The pope's response says not to be afraid to question problems, but also, not to seek hasty solutions that may not resolve them or lead to further problems.