In one of the most significant and controversial decisions of his papacy, Pope Francis has dismissed a proposal to allow married men to be ordained in the Amazon region of South America to ease an acute shortage of priests there.
Amazonian bishops backed the measure at a Synod in Rome last October, arguing in favour of allowing “viriprobati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood, but the decision needed the Pope’s approval.
Supporters argued it would not be necessary to rewrite Church doctrine and that the pope could simply make an exemption — like the one already granted to marriedAnglican pastors who later converted to Catholicism.
In an Apostolic Exhortation, he rejected the proposal, a move that will please conservatives but alarm modernists and reignite suspicions that he is being influenced by hispredecessor Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus.
A learned theologian, he at first withdrew to a life of quiet contemplation in the Vatican, but has increasingly begun to speak out on the major themes like celibacy. Last month it emerged that he had contributed to a book written by the arch-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah, which asserts that priests must be celibate. However, at a press conference inJanuary of last year, Pope Francis said he did not agree with allowing optional celibacy, suggesting he may be closer to this predecessor’s views than his supporters had thought.