Vatican Considers Relaxing Celibacy Requirement for Priests in Remote Areas of the Amazon

Pope Francis in Camerino, Italy, June 16, 2019. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

The Vatican has called for Church officials to study the possibility of ordaining married men living in remote areas of the Amazon in order to provide indigenous populations more regular access to the sacrament.

In a working document released Monday, Catholic leaders affirmed the Church’s commitment to celibacy as a general rule, but also suggested that officials study “the possibility of priestly ordination for older men, preferably indigenous and respected and accepted by their communities, even if they have stable families, for the region’s most remote areas.”

Brazil’s bishops have long advocated the ordination of viro probati – or married men of good character — so that Catholics living in the Amazon would be able to attend mass more frequently. But traditionalists within the Church remain concerned that relaxing the celibacy requirement for Amazonians might embolden reformers who would like to see it eliminated entirely.

The Church already allows married men who convert from Protestantism to serve as priests, and married men can be ordained in the Eastern Rite Catholic Church.

The working document, which will be discussed at an October meeting of bishops from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela, also calls for officials to determine “the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women,” but stops short of recommending that women be ordained as deacons.

The October meeting of the synod bishops is also expected to feature a broader discussion of the best ways to incorporate indigenous communities into the Church through the adoption of native dance, song, and other symbolism.

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