Vatican formally opens debate on married priests
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican formally opened debate Monday on letting married men be ordained as priests in remote parts of the Amazon where priests are so few that Catholics can go weeks or months without attending a Mass.
The call for study on the proposal was contained in the working document, released Monday, for an October meeting of South American bishops on the Amazon.
The document, prepared by the Vatican based on input from the region, affirmed that celibacy is a gift for the Catholic Church.
But it suggested 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.”
The idea of ordaining so-called “viri probati” — married men of proven virtue — has been around for decades to cope with a priest shortage and decline in vocations overall. But it has drawn fresh attention under Pope Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, thanks to his familiarity with the challenges facing the Amazon church.
The Oct. 6-27 meeting on the sacramental and environmental needs of the Amazon will draw bishops from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
Brazil’s bishops have long pushed for the church to consider ordaining viri probati to minister in remote parts of the Amazon where by some estimates there is one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.