John Phillips of The Telegraph (UK) reported this morning that Pope Francis has now “placed a request for Roman Catholic priests to be allowed to marry in Brazil on the agenda of a forthcoming synod on the Amazon region”. Phillips, citing Vatican sources in the Italian paper Il Messaggero, says that the decision to put “a partial lifting of priestly celibacy up for discussion and a possible vote” comes at the request of Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who heads up the commission of Amazonian bishops. The Synod on the Amazon will convene in 2019.
Last week, we reported that a proposal to this end written by the Austrian-born Amazonian bishop Erwin Kräutler was on the pope’s desk and under review. Kräutler had previously claimed that the pope had encouraged the bishops to “be courageous” in their proposals to deal with the challenges they face. Among those, for bishops in the Amazon, is a devastating priest shortage, with only some 18,000 priests serving a nation that is home to 140 million Catholics. Last December, liberation theologian and papal consultant Leonardo Boff said that he knew the pope had received an “explicit request” from “his friend” Cardinal Hummes, to consider allowing a relaxation of celibacy for priests in the Amazon region. “I have heard,” said Boff, in an interview with the German regional newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, “that the pope wants to meet this request – for now and for a certain experimental period in Brazil.”
Bishop Kräutler also recently said that John Paul II’s prohibition on the ordination of women in 1994 “certainly has a lasting effect, but it is not a dogma”. Elsewhere, he expressed hope that “Perhaps even Bishop Fritz Lobinger’s suggestion will be taken up”. Lobinger’s proposal, taken from his book, Like His Brothers and Sisters: Ordaining Community Leaders, has been described as
an experimental project whereby parish communities would be led by “teams of elders” selected from among their number and based on the earliest days of Christianity. These elders would not be clerics, though they would be sacramentally ordained priests. A celibate priest-animator would oversee these various ministry teams.
In a 2010 article in the National Catholic Reporter (cited here), Lobinger said that “ordaining proven local leaders could thus be the starting point for a solution” to overcoming the priest shortage. “Because the majority of proven local leaders are women,” he said, “it is unavoidable that the question of their inclusion among ordained elders will arise,” though he conceded that “present church law does not permit it.”
For now, it appears that the only consideration that has moved to the Amazonian synod agenda is that of married priests, though with the Vatican’s examination of the question of female deacons now well into its second year, and reported to also be suggested in Krautler’s proposal, it may yet wind up on the table in 2019.