The Vatican says it is open to discussing the ordination of married men and an official role for women, to address a shortage of priests in the Amazon region.
A document prepared for a meeting at the Vatican on the issue, due to be held in October 2019, suggests examining what “type of official ministry can be conferred on women.” The meeting is also expected to discuss a previously-mooted suggestion that older married men could serve as priests in the region.
Pope Francis called the meeting to address a severe shortage of priests in the Amazon basin, which covers more than three million square miles.
The preparatory document, published on Friday, says the resources of the church have been spread too thinly in the region. “One of the main points to be heard is the cry of thousands of communities deprived of the Sunday Eucharist for long periods of time,” the document says.
It says the church should not be afraid to make “daring proposals.”
The document does not specifically mention the proposal to allow married men to be ordained. But at Vatican news conference to launch the report on Friday, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri was asked about the suggestion that older married men could become priests. “The Church is not static … there is possibility of movement,” he said.
The proposal to allow married men to be ordained priests, called “viri probati,” has been floated before at the Vatican. In an interview in March last year, Pope Francis said he was open to studying its possibility.
“We need to consider if ‘viri probati’ could be a possibility,” the Pope said in the interview. “If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities.”
Bishop Erwin Krautler, the Secretary of the Commission for the Amazon, told CNN that the bishops will not only discuss the issue of married men, when they meet next year. “We don’t speak about viri probati, because it’s exclusionary. We also want to include women,” he said.
Bishop Fritz Lobinger of South Africa has suggested that a team of elders, men or women, could be nominated and ordained to preside at the Eucharist on Sundays in their own communities as a solution to the crisis.
The proposals would not affect the current practice of mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests, which the Pope has said won’t change.
On the issue of the ordination of women, Francis has appeared to put himself squarely on the side of his predecessors.
When asked by a reporter in 2016, Francis cited the declaration of St. John Paul II, adding that “the final word is clear” and “it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains.”