Pope Francis ignores calls for married priests in Amazon

Pope Francis leads a Mass marking the World Day of Peace in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, January 1, 2020.(Photo: Reuters/Remo Casilli)

In a move that will please conservatives in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has made it clear that he does not see married priests as the answer to a shortage of ordained priests in the Amazon basin. 

The question arose after the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region issued a document last October suggesting that this might offer a solution to congregations without a priest.

In a highly anticipated apostolic exhortation published on Wednesday, Pope Francis neglected to mention the proposal.

Instead, in the document called 'Querida Amazonia', or 'Beloved Amazon', he focuses on the need for evangelism and speaks of the importance of encouraging more Catholics to consider a priestly vocation in the Amazon region. 

"This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region," he said, although he cautioned that this missionary thrust should be sensitive to the local culture.

"At the same time, it is appropriate that the structure and content of both initial and ongoing priestly formation be thoroughly revised, so that priests can acquire the attitudes and abilities demanded by dialogue with Amazonian cultures.

"This formation must be preeminently pastoral and favour the development of priestly mercy." 

Elsewhere in the document, the Pope argues against permitting women to Holy Orders, saying that this "would in fact narrow our vision; it would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective".

"In a synodal Church, those women who in fact have a central part to play in Amazonian communities should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs," he said. 

Much of the Pope's focus, though, was on concerns for the poor and the environment, as he warned that the Amazon was facing an "ecological disaster". 

"Our dream is that of an Amazon region that can integrate and promote all its inhabitants, enabling them to enjoy 'good living'," he said.

"But this calls for a prophetic plea and an arduous effort on behalf of the poor. For though it is true that the Amazon region is facing an ecological disaster."