Cardinal Cláudio Hummes feels he is close to completing a project conceived of many years ago and tenaciously carried forward: the project of obtaining permission from the Vatican to ordain ad experimentum married men of a certain age (one hypothesis is over 50 years old) to account for the lack of priests in the center of the remote Amazon jungle. It was his idea when he came to Rome as prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and he never gave up on it — and he has seen it become a real possibility after the election of the pontiff whom he arranged and prepared the way for so ably.
This question will be discussed by the Synod on the Amazon, which will take place in Rome this coming October 6–27. Already this is an important sign of favor: the fact that this matter is being discussed by such a “local” synod, even though the Amazon includes several countries. The fact that the discussion will take place in Rome testifies to the exemplary significance being attached to it. And, in effect, already in other zones of the world like Germany, there are bishops who propose being able to ordain so-called viri probati to supply for the lack of priestly ordinations.
The synod will have as its theme “Amazonia: New Paths for The Church and for an Integral Ecology.” The principal objective indicated by the pope for the synod is that of “finding new ways for evangelization and of that portion of the people of God, in particular the indigenous persons, often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future, also because of the crisis of the Amazon forest, a lung of fundamental importance for our planet.”
The participants will be bishops chosen from diverse regions of the world, to confirm in this way that all the bishops are participants in hierarchical communion at the event. The Pan-Amazon is composed of nine countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana. It is a region inhabited by 34 million persons, an important source of oxygen for the entire planet. Twenty percent of the world’s fresh water that is not frozen is found there.
Cardinal Cláudio Hummes declared in an interview with the magazine Estadao, “About 70% of the community [of the Amazon] do not receive the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick because of the lack of priests.” Hummes, who has been retired for some time, is the head of the committee on the Amazon for the Bishops’ Conference of Brazil. The solution being proposed is viri probati, and officially, Cardinal Hummes is playing his hand and saying the final decision will belong to Pope Bergoglio. The synod is a consultative assembly, and the bishops, once they have voted on the conclusions, will pass on their recommendations as counsel for the pope, who will decide, if he wants to, to publish a final document.
“The pope,” says Hummes, “speaks of new paths. In this search for new paths, there is the discussion about ministers. Presently the Church does not have a sufficient number of priests for the community. They lack priests. It is the priest who celebrates the Mass, hears confessions, and gives the Anointing of the Sick.”
To the question of whether it is possible that the ordination of married laymen will be permitted, the cardinal replied, “It is the synod that will say yes or no. But from what has been seen in the preparation up until now, it will be necessary to discuss this question of the need for ministers in the Church of the Amazon in a particular way. The discussion does not mean that it would be for the whole world, but for this situation of extreme necessity.”
It is not difficult to hypothesize that from one situation of extreme necessity in one continent or one particular region, it will then be possible to pass to a situation of extreme necessity or shortage elsewhere — no longer in the rainforest, but in the jungles of Western secularism. And, the interviewer asked, speaking of the possibility of a female priesthood or diaconate, will the same criteria also be applied to women? Hummes responded, “This is much more distant” — implying that, in contrast, a favorable decision for viri probati is much more probable, and closer.
This article, translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino, is published here with permission from the author. The original in Italian can be found at La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.
Image: Centro Ático PUJ via YouTube.
Marco Tosatti is a renowned Italian journalist and Vatican expert. He has been covering the Holy See since 1981. His written work appears in La Stampa and La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. He is the author of several books, including The Prophecy of Fatima and Investigation of the Holy Shroud. He blogs at Marcotosatti.com.