At a special Vatican assembly, Catholic bishops called on Pope Francis Saturday to open the priesthood to married men in the Amazon, as well as to give women a greater role to play and to make the environment a sin.
At the conclusion of a three-week “synod” on the Pan-Amazon region, the bishops released a series of recommendations addressing issues such as the degradation of the rainforest, the oppression of indigenous peoples, and a lack of priests. The pontiff said he would tackle the issues before the end of the year on Saturday.
Not only the vast, isolated territory, but the entire Roman Catholic Church could have repercussions on the text.
The synod took to the Vatican some 184 bishops, over 60% of whom come from the nine countries of the Amazon.
They discussed a multitude of regional concerns, from climate change to poverty, land grabbing, mercury-polluted waters, and violence against women, together with representatives of indigenous peoples, experts and nuns.
The most hotly debated question was whether or not to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood in remote places where communities rarely have Mass because of a scarcity of priests.
Rewriting the law of the Church would not be necessary; the bishops simply asked Francis for an exception from the laws — like the one already provided for marriage.
The Synod Document states, “Sometimes the priest can go back to a family for several months or even several years to celebrate the Eucharist, to give the Sacrament of Reconciliation or to release the sick.”
It recommended the ordination of “necessary and respected group men” as priests who had “a legally recognized and healthy family.”
But the Catholic Church’s ultra-conservative wing — especially in Europe and North America — has strongly opposed the idea, warning that making exceptions could pave the way for the global abolition of celibacy.
The bishops even advised the Argentine pope to declare an “ecological sin “— or the violation of divine law—”the actions and practices of pollution and degradation of the peace of the environment.”
This called on the Church to combat “our culture of excessive consumption” by stating “we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and plastics.”
Citizens are also expected to change their eating habits to avoid “excess meat and fish/seafood intake,” they said.
We also suggested setting up a “global fund” to protect the Amazon and its indigenous communities from the “predatory pressure of national and multinational corporations to exploit their natural resources.”
‘Ministries for women’
The report also called for the Church to officially recognize the key role that lay women play in the evangelization of indigenous peoples by establishing a formal specific role, or “ministry,” called “female group leadership.”
There are many in the Church who want to also require them to become deacons, a position usually reserved for laypeople.
Single or married male deacons will baptize, witness weddings, conduct funerals, and preach homilies.
Franco said Saturday that, after the initial report — delivered this year to the Pontiff — was not definitive, he will reconvene a commission to study the history of female deacons in the early Catholic Church.
Two thirds without priests are led by women in indigenous communities. “The importance of women in the Church we still haven’t realized. Their role must go far beyond functional issues,” said Francis.