Vatican officials are expressing an openness to allowing older, married men to become priests in remote areas like the Amazon in South America, according to a new Church document.
A working document was prepared in advance of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region, scheduled to take place in October.
Presented to news media on Monday, the document, also called the “Instrumentum Laboris,” asked the Synod to consider allowing married men of good status to become priests.
“Affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, the document states that, for the most remote areas of the region, the possibility of priestly ordination be studied for married men with families,” reported Vatican News, the Church’s official news publication.
“The clause, that aims to ensure the Sacraments that accompany and support Christian life, specifies that these men must preferably be indigenous elders who are respected and accepted by their community.”
The Vatican noted that the consideration of allowing the ordination of married men was in response to the lack of priests in the region.
The document also looked into questions regarding the parameters for women to be in “official ministry,” noting the “central role women play today in the Church in the Amazon.”
“It is demanded that the role of women be recognized, starting from their charisms and talents. They ask to re-appropriate themselves of the space given to women by Jesus, ‘where we can all find ourselves,’” continued Vatican News.
“There is also a proposal to guarantee them their leadership, as well as wider and more relevant spaces in the field of formation: theology, catechesis, liturgy and schools of faith and politics.”
In October 2017, Pope Francis, the first pontiff to be from Latin America, announced that there would be a synod gathering centered on the Amazon region.
“The Church’s presence in the Amazon Basin is not that of someone with bags packed and ready to leave after having exploited everything possible,” Francis said at the time, as reported by Crux.
“The Church has been present in the Amazon Basin from the beginning, in her missionaries, religious congregations, priests, laity and bishops, and she is still present and critical to the area’s future.”
Francis also expressed an openness to allowing married men of good moral standing, also referred to as “viri probati,” to become priests.
“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities,” explained the pope in 2017 in an interview with a German newspaper, as reported by The Telegraph.
While the Roman Catholic Church mandates celibacy for its priests, in rare circumstances an exemption is given.
For example, clergy from The Episcopal Church who are married can become ordained in the Catholic Church and remain married. There are approximately 120 such priests in the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2017.