ROME – In a potentially groundbreaking move, the Roman Catholic Church on Monday cracked open the door to ordaining married, older men into the priesthood, to meet the pastoral needs of Catholics and indigenous people in remote areas of the Amazon.
The Vatican proposal would respond to the dearth of priests in the region by ordaining "viri probati," or men of proven character, as they are known in Latin. It is the kind of exception to the celibacy requirement that church experts say — and church traditionalists worry — could be a step toward the ordination of married men to other areas of the world.
While affirming that "celibacy is a gift for the Church," the Vatican document notes that there have been requests to consider, for the most remote areas of the Amazon, "the possibility of conferring priestly ordination on elderly men, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted members of their community." Such men, the document said, could be ordained "even if they already have an established and stable family."
Pope Francis has said in the past that he would entertain the possibility of ordaining viri probati in remote and isolated areas that are deprived of the sacraments. But he has also made clear that the priesthood's broader commitment to celibacy remains intact and it remained generally closed to married men.
Still, the much-anticipated proposal marks a potential pivot for the church, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, where it sees its future.
The change was included in a working document for the Vatican's upcoming summit of bishops in October to discuss the pastoral needs of faithful and indigenous communities in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela — what it refers to as the Pan-Amazon Region.
Limited ordination of married men is consistent with Francis' push to address different needs in different parts of the world, and to be more inclusive of people, even if they live outside the church's usual dictates, said the Rev. Giuseppe Buffon, a professor of church history at the Pontifical Antonianum University in Rome.
"The revolution for Francis is to give importance to the local populations and their cultures," he said. "He is thinking locally."
New York Times