Fran­cis avoids ques­tion of mar­ried priests in doc­u­ment on the Ama­zon

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - REMEMBERIN­G -


VAT­I­CAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis re­fused Wednesday to ap­prove the or­di­na­tion of mar­ried men or women as dea­cons to ad­dress a short­age of priests in the Ama­zon, sidestep­ping a dif­fi­cult is­sue that has di­vided the Catholic Church and em­bold­ened his con­ser­va­tive crit­ics.

In an ea­gerly awaited doc­u­ment, Fran­cis didn’t re­fer to rec­om­men­da­tions by Ama­zo­nian bish­ops to con­sider mar­ried priests or women dea­cons. Rather, the pope urged bish­ops to pray for more pri­estly vo­ca­tions and to send mis­sion­ar­ies to a re­gion where faith­ful Catholics in re­mote ar­eas can go months or years with­out hear­ing Mass.

The pope’s move dis­ap­pointed lib­er­als, who had hoped he would at least put both ques­tions to fur­ther study. It out­raged pro­gres­sive Catholic women’s groups. And it re­lieved con­ser­va­tives who had used the de­bate over pri­estly celibacy to heighten their op­po­si­tion to the pope, and saw his duck­ing of the is­sue as a vic­tory.

Fran­cis’ doc­u­ment, “Beloved Ama­zon,” is in­stead a love let­ter to the Ama­zo­nian rain for­est and its in­dige­nous peo­ples from the first Latin Amer­i­can pope. He has long been con­cerned about the vi­o­lent ex­ploita­tion of the Ama­zon’s land, its im­por­tance to the global ecosys­tem and the in­jus­tices against its peo­ples.

Quot­ing po­etry as fre­quently as past pa­pal teach­ings, Fran­cis ad­dressed the doc­u­ment to all peo­ples of the world “to help awaken their af­fec­tion and con­cern for that land which is also ours and to in­vite them to value it and ac­knowl­edge it as a sacred mys­tery.”

Fran­cis con­vened bish­ops from the Ama­zon’s nine coun­tries for a three-week synod in Oc­to­ber to de­bate how the church can help pre­serve the del­i­cate ecosys­tem from global warm­ing and bet­ter min­is­ter to its people.

Ac­cord­ing to Catholic doc­trine, only a pri­est can con­se­crate com­mu­nion el­e­ments. For Catholic com­mu­ni­ties in the Ama­zon, some of which date from the time of the Span­ish col­o­niza­tion, the pri­est short­age cou­pled with the spread of evan­gel­i­cal churches risks the very Catholic na­ture of the com­mu­ni­ties.

In the synod’s fi­nal doc­u­ment, most of the bish­ops called for es­tab­lish­ing cri­te­ria so that “re­spected” mar­ried men in their com­mu­ni­ties who have al­ready served as per­ma­nent dea­cons can be or­dained as priests. The bish­ops also urged the Vat­i­can to re­open a study com­mis­sion on or­dain­ing women as dea­cons.

Fran­cis didn’t men­tion ei­ther pro­posal in “Beloved Ama­zon” and didn’t cite the synod’s fi­nal doc­u­ment in his text or foot­notes. But he did say he wanted to “of­fi­cially present” the synod’s work and urged the faith­ful to read the fi­nal doc­u­ment in full, sug­gest­ing he val­ued the in­put.

Car­di­nal Michael Cz­erny, a synod or­ga­nizer, said its pro­pos­als “re­main on the table” and have their own “cer­tain moral au­thor­ity.” But the fact the pope didn’t ex­pressly ap­prove the fi­nal doc­u­ment, and only pre­sented it, means the pro­pos­als do not form part of his of­fi­cial teach­ing, said Car­di­nal Lorenzo Bald­is­seri, an­other or­ga­nizer.

Con­ser­va­tives re­joiced that he re­fused to ap­prove mar­ried priests.

“It is a great success, a great success for the faith­ful,” said con­ser­va­tive Aus­trian ac­tivist Alexan­der Tschugguel, who was so alarmed at the “pa­gan” pro­ceed­ings of the synod that he stole three wooden stat­ues of a preg­nant woman that were fea­tured in the Vat­i­can meet­ings and threw them in the Tiber River in Rome.

A con­ser­va­tive U.S. blog­ger, Thomas Peters, tweeted: “Deo gra­tias. The Holy Spirit has spared the Church.”

The omis­sion dis­ap­pointed Ger­man Catholics. The is­sue of mar­ried priests is on the of­fi­cial agenda of a di­a­logue be­tween their bish­ops’ con­fer­ence and a pow­er­ful lay group, the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of Ger­man Catholics.

“We re­gret very much that Pope Fran­cis does not dare to move a step for­ward,” said the head of the com­mit­tee, Thomas Sternberg.

Fran­cis has dis­missed sug­ges­tions that or­dain­ing women would serve the church. While agree­ing that women should have greater de­ci­sion-mak­ing and gov­er­nance roles, Fran­cis ar­gued that they must find “other forms of ser­vice and charisms that are proper to women.”

Women’s ad­vo­cacy groups blasted the doc­u­ment.

“This post-syn­odal doc­u­ment is a be­trayal of women by deny­ing them the grace of holy or­ders to do a min­istry they are al­ready car­ry­ing out,” said Miriam Duig­nan of the Wi­jn­gaards In­sti­tute for Catholic Re­search, a Bri­tish­based pro­gres­sive Catholic think tank.

The Catholic Church re­tains the priest­hood for men, hold­ing that Christ and his apos­tles were male. While Eastern rite branches have mar­ried priests, and Angli­can and Protes­tant pri­est con­verts can be mar­ried, the Ro­man rite church has had a tra­di­tion of pri­estly celibacy since the 11th cen­tury, im­posed in part to en­sure that priests’ as­sets pass to the church, not to heirs.


Car­di­nal Michael Cz­erny (left) an or­ga­nizer of the Oc­to­ber synod, said its pro­pos­als con­cern­ing the or­di­na­tion of mar­ried men as priests and women as dea­cons “re­main on the table.”


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