Hong Kong Catholic Church to ordain married men to serve in ministry

The Catholic Church in Hong Kong is not suffering from a shortage of priests, but it will reportedly ordain married men to serve the needy and perform more outreach programs as the number of its followers has grown significantly.

(WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Bryan and Jaqueline)This is a photo of the main altar of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Hong Kong. February 2015.

According to Vicar General Rev. Dominic Chan Chi-ming, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong has ordained only a few priests every year. The diocese also said its followers had increased by 60 percent to 389,000 in 2016 from 242,500 in 1997, the South China Morning Post detailed.

In the same period of time that the Church's members increased in population, the number of its priests dropped by 10 percent from 326 to 290. Rev. Chan also said that compared to Taiwan, their followers in Hong Kong were very active.

Because of this, the Hong Kong diocese has been ordaining married men as permanent deacons to help priests since 1997, similar to what had been happening in Europe and America since the late 1960s.

"Without deacons, the priests had to do everything, just like Father Franco Mella had to take to the streets," Rev. Chan explained. "Priests were ordained to host sacraments ... while the deacons are servants for the weak."

In addition, Chan said there were a lot of troubled Catholics to whom deacons can minister to. 

Last month, The Daily Mail reported that Pope Francis was reviewing proposals presented by Brazilian bishops to allow married men to be ordained as priests in remote areas. The suggestion stemmed from complaints that the far-flung areas were only being visited by a priest a few times in a year.

The proposal requires that married men should be of proven faith to be eligible for priesthood. While the plan will not allow current priests to get married, it may allow former ministers who are now married to return to priesthood.

For Pope Francis, scrapping the celibacy rule for existing priests will not address the Catholic Church's shortage of vicars. However, he is willing to consider the possibility of "viri probati" and later determine the tasks that married clergy can perform in the ministry.