Debate opens on priests in the Amazon

21 June 2019

Bishops’ synod is to discuss ordination of married men

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A mother and child from the Tupi Guaraní people, in Brazil

A mother and child from the Tupi Guaraní people, in Brazil

THE Roman Catholic Church is to consider the ordination of married men to serve as priests in remote parts of the Amazon.

A special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region will also investigate the possibility of permitting women to exercise ministry and other leadership positions.

The suggestions came in a working document, Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology, published in advance of the synod, which will be held at the Vatican from 6 to 27 October. The synod will bring together delegates from a territory of 2.1 million miles, including the countries of Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, and French Guiana.

“Affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, in order to ensure the sacraments for the most remote areas of the region, we are asked to study the possibility of priestly ordination for elders — preferably indigenous, respected, and accepted by the community — even though they have an established and stable family,” paragraph 129 of the document published on Monday states.

The document puts the ordination of “viri probati” — mature married men — on the table for the synod. Priestly celibacy is a discipline rather than a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

The ordination of married men remains forbidden by the Code of Canon Law, but with some exceptions, such as the ordination of married former Anglican clergy, who join one of the three ordinariates established under Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 for the corporate reception of Anglicans who wish to become Roman Catholics.

Seeking to inculturate the Church in Amazonian traditions, the working document also recommends “an official ministry that can be conferred upon women, taking into account the central role they play in the Amazonian Church”.

The Under-Secretary for the Synod of Bishops, Bishop Fabio Fabene, told a press conference at the Vatican that it was difficult to predict what might characterise such a ministry.

He said: “The document does not speak of the female diaconate, since the Pope has already expressed himself on the subject . . . declaring that the topic needs further study. In fact, the study commission set up in 2016 did not reach a unanimous opinion on the issue.”

The document calls for a dialogue with “the Amazonian cosmovision” to be incorporated in formation for religious life.

It says that it is necessary for the Church “to grasp what the Spirit of the Lord has taught to these peoples over the centuries: faith in God the Father-Mother Creator, the sense of communion and harmony with the earth, the sense of solidarity with one’s companions . . . the living relationship with nature and ‘Mother Earth’, the resilience of women”.

The document is divided into sections examining Amazonian cultures, environmental and economic problems, and pastoral approaches for the Church in the region.

The working document also acknowledges the “the wounds caused during long periods of colonisation”.

“For this Pope Francis asked ‘humbly for forgiveness, not only for the offences of his own Church, but for crimes against indigenous peoples during the conquest of so-called America’. In this past, the Church has sometimes been complicit in the colonisation and this has stifled the prophetic voice of the Gospel,” it says.

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