Speaking with the German newspaper Die Zeit on March 9, the pontiff said the lack of Catholic priests was an "enormous problem" for the Church, and indicated he would be open to a change in the rules governing eligibility for the priesthood.
"We need to consider if 'viri probati'could be a possibility," he told the magazine. "If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities."
Viri probati is the Latin term for "tested men" or married men of outstanding faith and virtue.
The option of viri probati allows married men to be ordained as priests, but single men who are already priests would not be allowed to marry, Francis said.
"Voluntary celibacy is not a solution," Francis said.
Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes is reportedly pressing to allow viri probati in the Amazon, where the church counts around one priest for every 10,000 Catholics, ABC News reported.
The Catholic Church already allows some married men to be ordained priests.
Protestant married priests who convert to Catholicism can continue to be married and be a Roman Catholic priest, providing they have their wives' permission, CNN reported.
And Eastern Catholic churches that are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church can also maintain their tradition of married priests.