The Archbishop of Armagh said Thursday that the pope's apostolic exhortation on the Amazon was foremost a call to preserve the region, and that a focus on its failure to address the priestly ordination of married men is undue.

"I understand there has been disappointment over the airwaves yesterday, and a lot of people feeling that perhaps this was a moment at which Pope Francis was going to express his views on the ordination of married men as priests," Archbishop Eamon Martin said Feb. 13 to the Irish public broadcaster RTE.

"But I think Pope Francis would be disappointed if this is the issue that we're all talking about today, because his exhortation is a huge cry from the Amazon and a cry from the heart to protect that region that is being cruelly destroyed by, I suppose, the exploitation of its resources, the destruction of its natural beauty and its life."

"He says, 'listen, the whole world has a responsiblity to try and preserve the equilibrum of the planet, which so much depends on the health of the Amazon and the ecosystems there'; so his whole exhortaion is really in line with his thinking from a few years ago, in his famous encyclical Laudato si'; it's really a call for the protection of the earth."

While Pope Francis was expected to focus in Querida Amazonia on a proposal to ordain married priests in the Amazon region, the pope instead emphasized the importance of collaboration in apostolic ministry by Catholics in various states of life.

Archbishop Martin noted that the Pope "chose not to mention" the priestly ordination of married men.

"It's been said he refused this or refused that; he's actually left the question. I think that he's done so in order to encourage all of us to focus on much bigger questions about Church ministry, organization, the involvement of lay people in the Church, the involvement of women in the Church, and he calls on the local Church there to actually officially recognize these roles in a way which it hasn't done until now," the archbishop commented.

Pressed on the topic, Archbishop Martin said that a call to consider the priestly ordination of married men was made in one of the 120 paragraphs of the Amazon synod's final document, "so it wasn't even at the Amazon synod the main theme of the synod, it was on this other issue I've been speaking to you about, the corruption, exploitation of the Amazon, the destruction of the indigenous peoples there, their displacement, oppression. These are the issues that he bishops at the Amazonian synod in October were most passionate about."

He emphasized that Francis is urging the Church "to step back and look at the bigger issues for mission. One of his key themes since he began his pontificate is that the Church needs to go out, and therefore he's calling on all of us throughout the world to respond to this crisis for priests  in the Amazon."

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"I know we think we're very short on priests, but a Church which loses its missionary spurt and its missionary zeal is a Church which is dying, and I think that's what Pope Francis is saying to us: stay missionary, get out there, go out and help these people."

Archbishop Martin said that "if we're to respond to Pope Francis' call here in Ireland then we too need to be looking at how are we recognizing the role of our lay faithful, how are we recognizing officially and presenting in our Church the role of women; and these aren't simply about ordination to the priesthood, but a recognition of the richness and the charisms … that lay people, lay women and men, can bring to our Church in terms of organization, proclaiming the Word, leading prayer, administering parishes, making decisions at a local and diocesan level, even exercising the pastoral care which in the past priests would have done."

"It's when we have this worshipping, vibrant, and living Christian community, it's then that we have new vocations," he stated.

In a Feb. 12 statement on Querida Amazonia, Archbishop Martin said it "highlights the problems of poverty, economic and social injustice and the violation of human rights which are intertwined in the vicious cycle of ecological and human degradation."

He added that "Despite the challenges we have here in Ireland with finding enough priests and religious to serve our parishes, we should not forget that Ireland has always been a country which has responded to the Church's call to mission … It would be wonderful if some Irish priests, religious and lay missionaries today were to consider offering even a five year period of ministry to the Amazon."

Pressed nevertheless on the topic of priestly ordination of married men by RTE, the archbishop said that "this question is still open, I'm open to this question, I'm open to this question in the universal Church. I think Pope Francis recognizes it's a question where there's a lot of divided thinking, and I think that we can recognize the joy and beauty of the gift of the priesthood where a man gives his life wholly and entirely dedicated to God, set apart for the service of Christ and his Church, a real gift to the Church. At the same time, we have to look at other roles, other ministries within the Church."

He said that "I'm very much open to the idea" of the priestly ordination of married men, "and I think Pope Francis is too. He doesn't shut the idea down, he leaves it open for further dicussion within the Church."

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The final document of the synod had proposed "that criteria and dispositions be established by the competent authority, within the framework of Lumen Gentium 26, to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community … who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region."

Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican's editorial director, wrote Feb. 12 that "after praying and reflecting," Pope Francis "has decided to respond not by foreseeing changes or further possibilities of exceptions from those already provided for by current ecclesiastical discipline, but by asking that the essentials be the starting point," for discussions regarding priestly ministry in the Amazon.

The pope's failure explicity to permit the priestly ordination of married men in the Amazon has not deterred some of those who are calling for the practice.

Bishop Augusto Martin Quijano Rodriguez, Vicar Apostolic of Pucallpa, told Reuters that "the door is still open," and that "the pope is asking for reflection. This proposal is still ongoing."

The Central Committee of German Catholics, an influential lay group which is jointly managing the so-called synodal process with the German bishops' conference, accused Pope Francis of a "lack of courage for real reforms" in his Amazonian exhortation.

ZdK wrote that the pope "does not find the courage to implement real reforms on the issues of consecration of married men and the liturgical skills of women that have been discussed for 50 years."