Pope Francis has requested a debate over allowing married men in the Amazon region of Brazil to become priests.
A request to lift the ban on marriage was made by Brazilian bishop Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon. The pope’s own personal friend Cardinal Hummes asked him to consider ordaining so-called viri probati, married men of great faith, capable of ministering spiritually to the many remote communities in the Amazon where there is a shortage of priests, and evangelical Christians and pagan sects are displacing Catholicism.
In the Amazon region there is just one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.
Meanwhile, Derry priest Father Paddy O’Kane suggested that Pope may move to end celibacy earlier this month, saying there was support amongst the church for the idea.
Fr O’Kane cited Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who said: "I have recently heard that the Pope wants to fulfil this request - as an experimental, preliminary phase for the moment confined to Brazil."
As a result, the pontiff took the decision to put a partial lifting of priestly celibacy up for discussion and a possible vote by Brazilian bishops following a request made by Cardinal Claudio Hummes.
Earlier this year, in an interview with Germany's Die Zeit newspaper, the pontiff said "We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities." He effectively reversed the centuries-old practice that Roman Catholic priests must be celibate.
The Pope has said that while he remains in favour of celibacy for priests, the principle is part of the discipline of the Church, rather than dogma, meaning that it can be discussed. Also his predecessor Benedict XVI have stated that celibacy is not a matter of inflexible church dogma unlike, and could be debated.
Monsignor Giacomo Canobbio, a leading Italian theologian, pointed out that "I believe that Francis could review this, though he would not decide alone but would start a collegial process. The question is urgent."
Such a Brazilian pilot project could be extended to regularize the position in Africa, where many Catholic priests already have mistresses and children. In Africa a good percentage of priests de facto have a family.
【Vatican】UN of religions
【Pope Francis】"The Image of God is the Married Couple: the Man and the Woman"