While giving interviews on the plane, he declared celibacy is "not a dogma" but "it is a rule of life that I appreciate very much, and I think it is a gift for the church but since it is not a dogma, the door is always open."
While there are skeptics that the Pope's remarks signal an imminent change, many say the fact that Francis is so openly amenable to discussing the issue on is significant.
Thomas Reese, senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, said,
"I think the real change is that he is allowing a conversation about celibacy which John Paul II and Benedict weren’t interested in having. They did not want any discussions of it. What Francis is saying is if people want to discuss it, he's not going to stop it."
This is not the first time Pope Francis has spoken celibacy, he made similar statements while Archbishop of Buenos Aires and after his elevation to pope, his secretary of state noted that it "is not an institution."
Priestly celibacy is not Church dogma, it never has been. It has been a tradition for approximately 1,000 years but never dogma. Dogma is Church doctrine that cannot be changed while the celibacy rule is considered man-made which can be changed.
When New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan was Archbishop of Milwaukee, a number of priests in his archdiocese penned a letter to the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops blaming a shortage of priests partly on the fact that clergy could not marry. There was also a letter to the Vatican last month penned by a number of women who are in love with priests asking that the celibacy rule be reconsidered.
There are also some critics who, in the face of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests, have made the assertion that sexual frustration may be partly to blame. However, there isn't any real evidence to support those assertions. Considering that married men from all walks of life have committed sexual crimes against children. If only it were that simple to stop pedophilia.
Another topic Pope Francis I addressed was the child sex abuse scandal. In some of his harshest language to date on the scandal, Francis compared sexual abuse by clerics to "celebrating a black Mass." He will meet with abuse victims next month at the Vatican.
"We must go ahead with zero tolerance," he said.
The Pontiff's meeting with abuse victims has been greatly criticized by the Survivor of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Both David Clohessy (SNAP executive director) and Joelle Casteix (a regional director of SNAP), have harshly criticized the meeting as "another gesture, another public relations coup" and "utterly meaningless".
Mitchell Garabedian, however, does not hold the same opinion as Clohessy and Casteix. Garabedian praised Francis, "Meeting directly with victims is the most powerful tool that the pope can use in understanding the ugliness and horror of clergy sexual abuse and why it must be stopped or prevented."
If you or someone you know has been abused by a member of the clergy or anyone for that matter, please don't hesitate to report it immediately to the police. If the Church or the authorities don't know about the abuse then they can't do anything to stop the abusers. If you are a victim of abuse, it is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. Please report all abuse to the police and please seek psychological help to aid in your healing. There are good people out there who can and will help.