Catholic Synod of Bishops Appears to Be Moving Toward Ordination for Married Men in the Amazon Region

Pope Francis leaves the morning session of the Amazon synod at the Vatican on Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

The synod of bishops meeting in Rome appears to be moving toward recommending the ordination of married men in the Amazon region.

While no one can predict what the bishops will do, one Brazilian bishop recently estimated that two-thirds of the bishops at the synod will support ordaining “viri probati” — a church phrase meaning “married men of proven virtue.”

Another participant told Religion News Service that only a couple of the 185 bishops spoke against the idea during the first week of the synod.

The three-week synod, which began Oct. 6, is composed mostly of bishops from the Amazon region but includes laity and religious, both men and women, as nonvoting participants. Among the lay participants are indigenous people from the area.

The first week of the synod involved three days of four-minute speeches by the participants, followed by two days of small group discussions. The second week has two days of speeches, followed by another two days of small group discussions. Rumor has it that the synod will get Friday off while a committee attempts to draft recommendations that reflect the consensus of the synod. Next week, the final week, will be decision time, when the bishops will vote on the recommendations they want to make to the pope.

Some bishops have complained about the Western media’s singular focus on the question of married priests, pointing to the other critical issues that have been discussed, such as the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and its impact on biodiversity, environmental pollution and climate change, all of which has benefited the rich, said the bishops.

The wholesale violation of the human rights of indigenous peoples has also been decried. Thousands have been slaughtered and more have been displaced from territories that have been occupied by their ancestors for centuries.

But the ordination of married men has been a recurring topic at the synod.

Those participating in the meetings do not approach the issue from an ideological perspective. There has been no talk of the “right” of priests to marry or that celibacy is a bad idea. No one is advocating letting already ordained men marry; rather they propose allowing the ordination of men who are already married.

The approach of those in favor has been pragmatic. If the Eucharist and the sacraments are essential to a Catholic community, they say, then the communities need priests. If there are not enough celibate priests, then the church needs to ordain married men.

One Amazonian bishop explained that he had so few priests that it would be like Italy having only 25 priests to serve all its Catholics. Other bishops talked of villages that celebrate the Eucharist at most only two or three times a year. Those supporting the ordination of married men say the priest should not just be a visitor, but a permanent presence in the community.

But it is not just isolated villages that lack priests. Bishop Carlo Verzeletti, who oversees the Diocese of Castanhal, near Belém, in northern Brazil, noted that he has a city with 150 Pentecostal churches, while Catholics have only 50 churches due to the shortage of clergy. Often people attend a Pentecostal church because it is the only place to worship in their village or their neighborhood.

But allowing married priests is only part of the solution. Many bishops spoke of the importance of good training and formation for lay and clerical leaders.

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Source: Religion News Service