Rev. Thomas Reese on the Catholic Amazon Synod of Bishops Considering Ordaining Married Men

Pope Francis greets indigenous representatives in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, on Jan. 19, 2018. Standing with thousands of indigenous Peruvians, Francis declared the Amazon the “heart of the church” and called for a threefold defense of its life, land and cultures. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The synod of bishops on the Amazon, which will meet in Rome this October, will discuss the possibility of ordaining married men in the Catholic Church, according to the working paper released Monday (June 17) by the Vatican.

The synod, called by Pope Francis to deal with issues facing the church in the Amazon area, will focus on protection of the environment and the church’s ministry to indigenous people, which necessarily includes talking about the shortage of clergy in this vast region.

The proposal to be discussed in October would be the possibility of ordaining “viri probati,” or mature married men, in exceptional situations. Many of these would probably be married deacons who already have some training.

This is the first time in centuries that the Catholic Church has put the topic of married clergy on the agenda of an international meeting of bishops.

For about half its history, the church did permit married priests. According to tradition, all the Apostles were married except St. John.

The rule of celibacy was gradually imposed, although even today there are exceptions. Married Protestant ministers who become Catholic can be ordained. In addition, Catholic clergy from Eastern churches, like the Ukrainian Catholic Church, have always been permitted to be married before ordination.

Celibacy is not dogma; it is a legal requirement that can be changed.

It has been an open secret that bishops in the Amazon area have raised the issue of married priests with the pope because they have huge dioceses with few priests. Although Pope Francis places a very high value on celibacy, he is also a pragmatist who recognizes that indigenous communities are being denied the Eucharist and the sacraments because they don’t have priests.

After all, which is more important, a celibate priesthood or the Eucharist? At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” not “have a celibate priesthood.”

Even so, conservative Catholics oppose the change as against tradition. For conservatives, this is just another example of Francis giving in to contemporary culture.

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Source: Religion News Service