Former vicar general of Rome: Ordaining married men in Amazon a 'wrong choice'

Newly ordained priests wear their vestments during papal ordination in St Peters Basilica on April 26 2015 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA 4 26 15 Newly ordained priests are vested during their Mass of Ordination in St. Peter's Basilica, April 26, 2015. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who served as Vicar General of Rome for 17 years and was a close collaborator of St. John Paul II, has said he hopes Pope Francis will not allow an exception to priestly celibacy in the Amazon region.

"In the Amazon, and also in other parts of the world, there is a serious shortage of priests, and Christian communities often remain deprived of the Mass," Ruini, who was Vicar General of Rome from 1991 to 2008, said in a Nov. 3 interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

"It is understandable that there is a push to ordain married deacons as priests," he continued. "It is in this sense most of the synod was in favor of ordaining married deacons to the priesthood."

"In my opinion, however, this is a wrong choice. And I hope and pray that the pope, in the upcoming post-synodal apostolic exhortation, will not confirm it."

The 88-year-old cardinal, who was also head of the Italian bishops' conference for 16 years in the 1990s and 2000s, said there are two principle reasons why he thinks it is not the right decision to make an exception to priestly celibacy in the Amazon.

The first is that in the "eroticized" society of today, "priestly celibacy is a great sign of total dedication to God and to the service of our brothers."

To give up celibacy, even as an exception in one particular place, he said, "would be a yielding to the spirit of the world, which always tries to penetrate the Church, and which would hardly stop with exceptional cases like the Amazon."

Ruini also pointed to the crisis hitting the institution of marriage today, stating that married priests and their wives would not be immune to its effects. "Their human and spiritual condition could not fail to be affected," he argued.

To the problem of a lack of priestly vocations there is "only one decisive answer," the cardinal said: "We Christians, and in particular we priests and religious, must be closer to God in our lives, lead a more holy life, and beg God for all this in prayer. Without getting tired."

Cardinal Ruini's close association with St. Pope John Paul II began in the mid-1980s. In 1986 he was appointed secretary-general of the Italian bishops' conference, before becoming its president in 1991.

That same year, St. John Paul II made him the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, which meant Ruini largely administered the diocese.

Through television and radio interviews, the cardinal, now retired for 11 years, became the public face of John Paul II's pontificate.  

He explained that though living celibacy was not easy for him, "it is a great gift that the Lord gave me." He also said that he did not feel the weight of not having children of his own because he has been able to experience and enjoy a relationship with many young people, as well as have a close relationship with members of his immediate family, like his sister.

"And I am fortunate to live with people who are like a family to me," he added.

Ruini said he does not think there is a risk of a schism in the Church, either from the Church in North America or the Church in Germany. "And I hope not with all my heart," he said, adding that "the unity of the Church is a fundamental good, and we bishops, in union with the pope, must be its first supporters."

Asked about Pope Francis, Ruini said, "Jesus Christ said: do not judge, so as not to be judged. Much less can I judge Francis, who is my pope, to whom I owe respect, obedience and love."

"In this spirit, I can answer that Pope Francis put the poor at the center of his pontificate; and I remember that even St. John Paul II, very different from him, continually reaffirmed the preferential love for the poor."

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