One of the document’s most anticipated and likely controversial items is the call by the synod fathers for the ordination of proven married men, so-called viri probati, in the face of an acute shortage of priests in many parts of the region.
“Many of the ecclesial communities of the Amazonian territory have enormous difficulties in accessing the Eucharist,” the document says, while noting that some communities go for months, even years between visits from a priest.
The synod fathers said that they “appreciate celibacy as a gift of God to the extent that this gift enables the missionary disciple, ordained to the priesthood, to dedicate himself fully to the service of the Holy People of God.” But, the bishops concluded, “legitimate diversity does not harm the communion and unity of the Church, but expresses and serves it.”
The document proposes “to establish criteria and dispositions on the part of the competent authority... to ordain as priest suitable and esteemed men of the community, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legitimately constituted and stable family, to sustain the life of the Christian community.”
These criteria, together with each individual paragraph of the text, was approved by a two-thirds vote of the synod’s voting members.
Speaking after the session ended, Cardinal Peter Turkson said that the voting process had proceeded smoothly and that all the articles of the document had passed by a comfortable margin.
Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the retired head of the Xingu prelature in Amazonian Brazil, told reporters that the proposal for the ordination of married men was not a surprise.
“It is what we expected, of course,” Kräutler said. The article passed by a margin of 128-41.
Kräutler has been an adamant proponent of married clergy, telling an Oct. 9 press conference that there is “no other option” for the region, and said that indigenous people in the Amazon were unable to understand the evangelical witness of celibacy.
While the proposal to allow the ordination of married men garnered a clear majority of synod participants, the issue of married clergy was a focal point of debate during the weeks of the synod.
Shortly before the synod opened, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, published a book entitled “Friends of the Bridegroom: For a Renewed Vision of Priestly Celibacy,” and Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship made several public interventions in favor of celibacy.
The synod’s final document explicitly linked the proposal to ministry in “the most remote areas of the Amazon,” but recognized that several of the synodal participants “were in favor of a more universal approach to the subject.”
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Presenting the document at a press conference on Saturday evening, Cardinal Michael Czerny, special secretary of the synod, said some members felt that proposing to change the discipline of clerical celibacy should be reserved to the universal Church.
“Other felt that the existing norms of canon law... allow us to consider this within the context of a specific region,” said Czerny who also serves as under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Cardinal Osward Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and a close advisor of the pope, said in an interview on Saturday that he was in favor of the proposal, in as much as it represented a merely disciplinary change.
“I think that the present canon law…says its an impediment if you have a wife to receive orders, but it is an impediment that can be dispensed by the Holy See – and it has been dispensed. But I think there should be very clear criteria, conditions put [on the proposal],” Gracias said, referencing how the Church had worked to incorporate married former Anglican ministers who had been ordained as Catholic priests.
The synodal document also called for new and enhanced ministerial roles for women in the life of the Church in the region.
Noting that “the Magisterium of the Church since the Second Vatican Council has highlighted the central place that women occupy in the Church,” the document called for the Church to “recognize and promote [the leadership of women] by strengthening their participation in pastoral councils of parishes and dioceses, or even in instances of government.”