Bishops' conference to discuss loosening celibacy tradition

Bishops' conference to discuss loosening celibacy tradition
Pope Francis.

A conference of Catholic bishops in Rome is set to discuss whether to allow married men to be ordained.

The three-week conference in the Vatican is working on how to develop the faith in the Amazon, and will discuss whether it is time to loosen the Church's tradition of celibacy.

The Catholic Church wants to spread the faith among indigenous communities in the Amazon region, and the Synod of Bishops is meeting in Rome over the next three weeks for a major conference on how exactly to do that.

Part of the problem is there are not enough priests in remote areas; it means some of the faithful only see a priest as little as once a year.

The suggestion from bishops in South America and some indigenous groups is that the criteria for becoming a "minister authorized to celebrate the Eucharist" be loosened. It is also being suggested that some people in communities in the most distant parts of the region could be allowed to say Mass, even if they have a family.

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.

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.

Accepting the suggestions, and implementing them, would mark a break with centuries of tradition for the Church.

The celibacy question has been a mainstay in Catholic debate given it is a discipline, not a doctrine, and therefore can change.

Backers of the move say it might be supported by some Bible verses referring to the practices of the early Christian church.

The church has had the tradition since the 11th century, imposed in part to spare the church the financial burdens of providing for large families and to ensure that any assets of the priest would pass to the church, not his heirs.

The October 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.

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