The Amazon Synod: Will Married Clergy Be Treated?

Pope Francis announced today in Rome that he is calling a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the pan-Amazon region. He made the announcement after the Mass at which he canonized 35 new saints, including three indigenous children martyred in 16th century Mexico.

Francis focused on three issues in convoking the synod: the needs of indigenous people, new paths for evangelization, and on the crisis of the rain forest. He stated that the main purpose will be “new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region.”

Some commentators already wonder whether “new paths for evangelization” is code language for married clergy. Will the synod take up the possibility of ordaining (some) married men to the priesthood?

Already in 2014, Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil suggested, based on his conversation with Pope Francis, that there could be significant steps coming in the question of mandatory celibacy. Kräutler said at the time that this could be on a regional basis for places such as Latin America. The issue is pressing because of the severe priesthood shortage in the region – 90% of all communities in the Amazon have no Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. 70% have Mass two or three times a year – otherwise a Liturgy of the Word is held. Kräutler’s diocese has 800 communities and 27 priests.

In late 2014, the Brazilian bishops established a commission on the question of mandatory celibacy.

Given these developments, it seems very possible that the issued of mandatory celibacy and married priests will be on the docket.

2014 saw the founding of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM). This consists of not only the regional Bishops’ Conferences, but also by priests, missionaries of congregations who work in the Amazon jungle, national representatives of Caritas and laypeople belonging to various Church bodies in the region. REPAM was founded to facilitate cooperation and collaboration in a region facing many challenges – climate change, large-scale mining projects, and actions by transnational corporations have “devastated” the region according to Archbishop Barreto of Huancayo, Peru.

The Amazon territory is the largest tropical forest in the world and includes Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil. It is home to nearly 2.8 million indigenous people in 390 tribes speaking 240 languages in 49 different linguistic families.

At the time of the creation of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes said that the network “represents a new incentive and relaunch of the work of the Church in Amazonia, strongly desired by the Holy Father. There, the Church wishes to be, with courage and determination, a missionary Church, merciful, prophetic, and close to all the people, especially the poorest, the excluded, the discarded, the forgotten and wounded.’

The pan-Amazon synod announced today will not take place until October, 2019. This time frame will no doubt allow for the discussion of many issues the synod might take up.

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5 comments

  1. I would be very excited to see this pursued.

    One note: “married priests” is not the same as “married clergy”. The big news here would be the former, not the latter, because the Catholic church already has many thousands of married clergy: those married among the permanent diaconate.

    And this isn’t just an instance of me being a persnickety about terminology. I’ve thought for some time that the church’s contemporary experience of married clergy, which is significantly wider and deeper than much of the church has stopped to reflect and come to grips with, provides, if not a complete foundation, at least big chunks of a foundation for addressing potential issues and pitfalls around “mainstreaming” married priests in the church.

    For example, if we want to understand how candidate couples for a married priesthood would be selected, and what the profiles are likely to look like, then we should look to how deacon couples are selected and what characteristics the church looks for in them. It would be quite different than the traditional expectation of the young man just out of high school or college going right into seminary.

  2. View from the Pew
    Regarding: “Some commentators already wonder whether “new paths for evangelization” is code language for married clergy. ”
    – Would this code be inclusive of clergy who wish to marry, or laicized married wishing to return to ministry at least as mass priests?
    – Also, this upcoming synod would be much enriched if they invited the native peoples of Canada, the USA, and Mexico to participate by presenting to the synod fathers their experience of the church in their midst from the beginning of when the first priest arrived.

    1. “– Would this code be inclusive of clergy who wish to marry, or laicized married wishing to return to ministry at least as mass priests?”

      For any of the popes during our lifetimes, prior to Francis, the answer almost certainly would have been “No”. Francis is full of surprises.

    2. If Pope Francis is serious about ecumenical concerns with the Orthodox, the answer to the first question would be no.

      Perhaps “serious” is a poor choice of word because I don’t doubt his sincerity. But I could see Pope Francis saying that such a move is an internal discipline only that should have no effect the dialogue between the two communions, perhaps part of a healthy decentralization if local bishops conferences were to take the initiative.

      But Orthodox ideas of collegiality common on their episcopate is intermeshed with a concept of “timeless” Tradition that would make such a move unacceptable. It is why Francis’ predecessor was against widespread permission for permanent deacons to remarry.

  3. This discussion assumes the Church is doing a good enough job recruiting and encouraging vocations. We are not. As the pope has said, lack of faith and prayer, and greed are discouraging vocations more than anything else.

    With married priests, we would soon have separated and divorced priests. Good luck preaching about marriage!

    I am a celibate Catholic priest and think this idea would create a lot of division. It would be a pathetic, grasping compromise with the world.

    Fr. Tom Duggan
    Diocese of Raleigh, NC

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