ROME - Pope Francis on Monday repeated his support for celibacy after his predecessor pope Benedict XVI urged him not to open the Catholic priesthood up to married men, in a plea that stunned Vatican experts.
"The pope's position on celibacy is well known," the head of the Vatican's press center, Matteo Bruni, told journalists at the Vatican on Monday, citing Francis on his return from a trip to Panama in January 2019.
"I remember something that Pope Paul VI said: 'I'd rather give my life than change the law on celibacy'," Bruni quoted the pope as having said.
The pope also said "Personally I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church. Secondly, I don't think optional celibacy should be allowed. No."
At the time, the pope nevertheless conceded "some possibilities for far flung places", such as Pacific islands or the Amazon where "there is a pastoral necessity".
The ex-pontiff Benedict, who retired in 2013, issued his defense of clerical celibacy in a book written with arch-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah, extracts of which were published by France's Le Figaro.
"I cannot keep silent!" Benedict wrote in the book, which follows an extraordinary meeting of bishops from the Amazon at the Vatican last year that recommended the ordination of married men in certain circumstances.
The pope emeritus, 92, and Cardinal Sarah from Guinea weighed in on the controversial question of whether or not to allow "viri probati" -- married "men of proven virtue" -- to join the priesthood.
Francis is currently considering allowing it in remote locations, such as the Amazon, where communities seldom have Mass due to a lack of priests, and is expected to publish his decision in the coming weeks.
Benedict, who was the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, at first withdrew to a life of quiet contemplation in the Vatican, but has increasingly begun to speak out on key Catholic issues.