Apr 19, 2018
The news that Pope Francis has set in motion the planning for a synod of bishops of the Amazon region next year may not strike most U.S. Catholics as a matter of great interest. But hold on – there's a lot more at stake here than may appear at first glance. For if the bishops of the vast (2.1 million square miles), priest-short Amazon region ask for married priests and the Pope approves – and both of those things seem likely to happen – the synod will have taken a large step toward married priests in many areas besides the Amazon.
If so, it won't mark the end of priestly celibacy. But it will have set the Church on a path of radical change in ways that lie far beyond anybody's ability to predict now.
The idea of ordaining viri probati (mature, trustworthy men) to celebrate Mass and provide other sacramental services in places where celibate priests are in short supply goes back at least to the time of the Second Vatican Council but only lately has come to life again. If the experiment in the Amazon – supposing it's approved – succeeds in meeting the need there, it is likely to be repeated by bishops in other places with the same problem.
That includes not only remote regions like the Amazon but areas such as parts of Western Europe where ordinations of new priests have slowed to a trickle. Quebec's bishops are said to be looking at the idea, and there could be interest elsewhere.