Will Pope Francis Allow Married Men to be Ordained as Catholic Priests?

Published September 30th, 2019 - 06:31 GMT
Pope Francis greets the pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican. (Shutterstock/ File Photo)
Pope Francis greets the pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican. (Shutterstock/ File Photo)
Pope Francis' three-week synod of Amazonian bishops will start on October 6.

Pope Francis  could allow married men to be ordained as Catholic priests in remote areas, in a move traditionalists fear could end celibacy.

Francis will commence a three-week synod of Amazonian bishops at the Vatican on October 6 which will consider breaking the centuries-old tradition.

It is among 146 items to be considered but it is the controversial focal point, with cardinals saying they will call for the Pope's resignation if it goes through.

The proposal calls for older married men with grown children and a strong standing in the Church - 'viri probati' or proven men - to join the priesthood and help fill a gap in sparsely populated communities. 

A tribal elder with ten adult children, Yampik Wananch, 48, is a leading figure in one of the Catholic Church's most remote outposts in the Peruvian village of Wijint. 

Yampik, who like other indigenous Achuar peoples was converted by missionaries decades ago, said: 'I feel it in my heart. I want to be a priest.'

A three-day boat ride from the nearest town with paved roads, Wijint is one of 827 native communities in the Vicariate of Yurimaguas, a region nearly the size of Panama ministered by just 25 priests.

At least 85% of villages in the region cannot celebrate Mass every week, a ritual in which Catholics believe communion bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. 

Yampik is one of four married 'viri probati' Achuar deacons who will be discussed for the priesthood at the synod.  

Proponents say the Amazon region is in desperate need of a change at a time when Pope Francis is already under ferocious criticism from the conservative wing.

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The document says: 'While affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, there have been requests that, for the most remote areas of the region, (the Church) studies the possibility of conferring priestly ordination on elderly men, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted members of their communities.'

It has been branded heretical by those who believe it takes the Church down a slippery slope towards the abolition of priestly celibacy, which became obligatory in the 12th century in part to keep children of priests from inheriting Church property.

German Cardinal Gerhard Muller says the document 'lacks theological reflection' and puts its faith in 'human ideas to save the world' rather than Jesus.

He believes the change could cause a schism so grave that people would leave the Church.

On a recent trip the Pope affirmed he 'would rather give his life' than change the celibacy rule, even as he listens to the idea of married priests. 

But American Cardinal Raymond Burke is among others who claim they will ask for Francis' resignation if he goes ahead with the proposal.

The Church teaches that by remaining celibate and unmarried, a priest can devote himself entirely to God and the Church.

But the requirement has crimped efforts to recruit priests to minister to all its current members - much less expand - in traditional strongholds like Latin America, where evangelical Christians are making inroads. 

The Vatican has allowed some leeway before. Some Anglican priests who were already married when they converted to Roman Catholicism were able to continue to serve as priests.

But it has not made an exception to its celibacy rule for the purpose of addressing shortages of priests. It is a discipline, though, not a dogma, and therefore can be changed.

The synod does not make decisions. Only the pope can. Participants will vote on various articles in a final document, which will then go to the pope to decide whether to make it into an official Apostolic Exhortation.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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