By Muhammad Siddiqui
Facing shortages of clergymen in some of the more remote areas of the world, Pope Francis has called for dialogue among the Catholic Church’s bishops at the synod — a gathering at the Vatican — starting on Oct. 6. The Wall Street Journal reported that the meeting is part of an effort to discuss whether to ease the celibacy requirements on priesthood.
Specifically concerned with the lack of priests in the Amazon region, the pope is seeking a remedy to the shortage by accepting men into the clergy who are already married or fathers, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The shortage of priests is a pressing matter in the Amazon, where an estimated 85 percent of villages are not able to participate in Mass, according to The New York Post.
According to the BBC, this discussion would not be the first time the Catholic Church has dealt with issues regarding celibacy vows. In the past, it has allowed Catholic converts who were previously Anglican to join the clergy. Eastern-rite churches have allowed for married men to be in the clergy as well.
Official documents for this month’s synod propose the acceptance of “‘elders, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their community, even if they have an existing and stable family,’” according to The Wall Street Journal.
However, there is already debate over the issue. The Wall Street Journal reported that Canadian Cardinal Mar Ouellet recently published a book, in which he argues that the move would be detrimental to the spread of the faith in the region. According to Ouellet, clergymen are welcomed into local communities in the Amazon because of their celibate status, which he said adds weight to their preaching as a reflection of their dedication to God.
According to The Wall Street Journal, another argument is that inadequate evangelization, stemming partly from fear of disrespecting local cultures, is to blame for the lack of qualifying priests. Martín Lasarte, a priest from Uruguay, said it would be better for the Church to increase its efforts to teach the Catholic faith, so that its preaching efforts match its push for charity and social justice in the areas.
However, another concern is that if exemptions from the celibacy vows are created in the Amazon or other remote areas, there could be calls for similar changes in other regions. In Germany, there are already plans to discuss the issue of celibacy, along with homosexuality and the ordination of women, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Despite the concerns, some South American bishops have shown support. It is possible that the pope, being from South America, will support the measure. The Wall Street Journal reported that although the synod can make a suggestion of actions to take, the decision ultimately lies with the pope.