Pope Francis has refused to allow the ordination of married men as Catholic priests in the Amazon region of South America to help with a local clergy shortage.
The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region had previously suggested allowing married men in the remote parts of the Amazon to become priests in an earlier official document.
In the papal exhortation “Querida Amazonia,” which was released on Wednesday, translates to English as “Beloved Amazon,” the head of the Roman Catholic Church did not address the issue of allowing married men to become priests or women to become deacons.
Instead, Francis implored the bishops to pray for more vocations and to send more missionaries to remote areas of the Amazon to hold mass, The Associated Press reported.
The pontiff also urged people to have more respect for the rights of the impoverished, and stressed the importance of preserving the local environment, and honoring the cultural aspects of the local populations.
The Rev. James Martin, author and editor at large at the Jesuit publication America magazine, expressed optimism about the issue of married priests.
“Pope Francis is ‘officially presenting’ the synod’s final document along with ‘Querida Amazonia,’ so it accompanies the exhortation as part of his teaching. That may mean that the synod’s proposals are still up for discussion in the future,” wrote Martin on Wednesday.
“In any case, the question of the official status of proposals included in the synod document, but not explicitly endorsed in the exhortation, should probably be left to canon lawyers.”
Martin also wrote that while some might not like the Pope’s exhortation, “the very process of following the ‘synodal way’ and Pope Francis’ support of that way is a step forward for the church in the Amazon and around the world.”
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.
A major issue was the lack of priests in the region. Since in the Catholic Church only priests can consecrate the Eucharist, some areas of the Amazon go without communion for months or even years.
At the time, Francis had expressed an openness to allowing “viri probati,” or married men of good moral standing, to be ordained as priests in that specific region.
“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities,” explained Francis in 2017, The Telegraph reported.
Last October, Francis convened a three-week synod of Latin American bishops whose countries included the Amazon, focusing on multiple issues regarding the well-being of the region and its people.
While the Catholic Church mandates celibacy for priests, exemptions are given in rare circumstances. For example, married clergy from The Episcopal Church can become ordained in the Catholic Church without having to divorce their wives.
There are approximately 120 such married priests in the United States, according to a Los Angeles Times story published in 2017.