Pope Francis's comments show that 'he’s got a spirit that’s open to God'

The Church’s “firm” tradition of priestly celibacy is unlikely change despite Pope Francis’s recent comment that the Church should reflect on married priests, Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said.

“I think when Pope Francis makes these comments what he’s showing us is he’s got a spirit that’s open to God,” the Archbishop of Westminster said.

“He’s not saying ‘I want married priests, I want female deacons’. He’s saying ‘let’s not be afraid’.”

He added: “We have a strong, firm tradition, so we can explore things. We’re comfortable. For myself, I don’t see these things changing.”

The cardinal made the remarks while at CYMFed Flame 2017, a gathering that saw 10,000 young Catholics packed into Wembley’s SSE Arena for music with Matt Redman and prayer.

The cardinal was reflecting on Pope Francis’s interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, in which he said that the Church should consider whether the Holy Spirit is demanding married priests.

“In the Church, it is always important to recognise the right moment, to recognise when the Holy Spirit demands something,” the Pope said. “That is why I say that we will continue to reflect about the viri probati.”

Cardinal Nichols that, although there are already some married ordinariate priests in Britain, that didn’t mean it should be a general rule.

“What they teach us is that marriage is not a solution to problems, it is a challenge,” he said.

“It is a tough call. We don’t solve our problems by saying ‘here’s a solution’ [with married priests].”

He said that the idea of a priest just having his parish rather than a family calling on him was an important one.

“I think the tradition of a priest who comes and gives his whole life to the Church means an awful lot to people on the street,” he said. “They say, ‘that’s our priest. Nobody else’s. That’s ours.’ They know he’s there for them.”

Asked why he felt the Pope made the comments, the Cardinal said he thought that Francis was “showing an openness to finding a solution”.

He praised this approach, saying it showed that he is a good leader, that he “brings out the best in people”.

“When people hear a leader speaking about what is best in them, they want to give their best,” he explained. “Too many leaders speak about fear, too many leaders trade on fear. That is, in my view, poor leadership.”

Speaking about the challenge of vocations, the cardinal said the problem lay in the transient nature of the modern world.

“It is more difficult today for people, certainly at a young age, and as they get a bit older to make a life long commitment,” the cardinal said.

“There’s plenty of people that might sense that there’s something great to be done by giving their life as a priest or religious sister, and history tells us that’s true. History has been transformed by the work of people with a deep faith and a life long religious dedication. It’s tough these days as everything seems so transient.”

In Westminster diocese there are eight men being ordained this summer, and there were four new novices at the recent meeting of the Religious.

“I spent the day with Religious and they were the happiest, most joyful people,” the cardinal said. “People wonder how can you be happy if you’re shut up, but they have this inner peace. It’s a tonic.”

The cardinal praised events like Flame for giving young people the chance to take time out to consider what they are being called to do.

“I just long for opportunities like [Flame] and also opportunities for people to be silent and quiet. There is a space in every person that in the end only God can fill,” he said.

“He has a plan for every person it’s written inside of us, it’s only when that process begins to happen that we find our vocation. Sometimes the rumour goes out that Christianity is finished in this country and it’s not true. You can see that.”