The Vatican is ready to open a discussion about whether Catholic priests should be required to remain celibate, the Vatican's newly appointed secretary of state said in an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper.

"Celibacy is not an institution but look, it is also true that you can discuss [it] because as you say this is not a dogma, a dogma of the church," Archbishop Pietro Parolin said during an interview with El Universal.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the ancient policy mandating celibacy is a firmly established tradition in the Catholic Church. 

Vatican policy on priest celibacy

'Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.'

Source: Canon 277 of the Vatican's Code of Canon Law 

"The efforts that the church made to keep ecclesiastical celibacy, to impose ecclesiastical celibacy, have to be taken into consideration," Parolin said. "One cannot say simply that this belongs in the past."

For many centuries, Catholic priests have faced the requirement to be celibate —  a policy that some have blamed for contributing to the major decline in the number of young men entering the priesthood. 

Until Archbishop Parolin's comments, any discussion about changing the priest celibacy rule was largely considered to be out-of-bounds. As secretary of state, he is considered the top aide to Pope Francis.

Parolin's remarks could be seen as a further sign that Pope Francis is open to the idea of reforming some of the Catholic Church's most entrenched policies.