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Catholic Church paves way for ordination of married men to priesthood

Debate: Pope Francis
Debate: Pope Francis

By Sarah MacDonald

The Vatican has signalled a historic shift on celibacy following the publication of a document asking bishops to consider ordaining married men as priests.

The preparatory document for the Amazon Synod, which takes place in Rome next October, contains proposals linking the ordination of older married men with fulfilling the pastoral needs of communities in remote regions of South America.

Currently the Amazon region suffers from a huge shortage of priests.

"While affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, it is asked that for the most remote areas of the region, the possibility of priestly ordination of elders," the preparatory document for the synod said.

They would be "preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their community, even those who already have stable and consolidated families, and be studied in order to ensure the sacraments to accompany and sustain Christian life".

Another proposal in the document up for discussion relates to giving women official decision-making roles.

The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland said: "The reality is that whatever is decided, and something has to be decided, will percolate into the wider Church."

Fr Brendan Hoban, a Co Mayo-based priest, said what was important "is not that it's done well but that it's happening at all".

He said the announcement was made in the context of "a Eucharistic famine" which he said was "just around the corner" and had been obvious for years.

According to Fr Hoban, unless the document's proposal on bringing women into governance is real, as distinct from cosmetic, "it will only serve to remind women how disrespected and taken for granted they have been for centuries in the Catholic Church". He warned that unless there is some movement on female deacons, women will just continue to walk away.

Co Down columnist and broadcaster Fr Brian D'Arcy welcomed what he described as "a basic proposal" but said he didn't understand why it was applicable just to 'elder' men.

"It will hopefully be accepted and in time broadened to all suitable married candidates," he said.

Dr Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic studies at Roehampton University in London, cautiously welcomed what she described as a "pastorally-motivated initiative" on married men and priesthood.

But she noted that it was only proposed for the Amazon.

She highlighted that there are already many married Catholic priests in Britain following the decision of some clergymen to leave the Church of England over the issue of women priests and join the ordinariate.

Professor Beattie also stressed that there are "vexing questions of injustice with regard to many celibate Catholic priests who long for marriage and family life but are denied these opportunities". He added: "I wonder what it feels like when they are asked to minister alongside married priests?"

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