Why Pope Francis may open the door to married priests

Epigraph:

Then We caused Our Messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow them, and We gave him the Gospel. And We placed in the hearts of those who accepted him compassion and mercy. But monasticism which they invented for themselves — We did not prescribe it for them — for the seeking of Allah’s pleasure; but they did not observe it with due observance. Yet We gave those of them who believed their due reward, but many of them are rebellious. (Al Quran 57:27/28)

Source: The Economist

A controversial proposal for the Amazon basin would set a precedent for the Catholic church

NOT FOR the first time, Pope Francis—or, to be more precise, his aides in the Vatican—have raised eyebrows. On June 17th, in a document that sets the agenda for a meeting in October to discuss the problems of the Amazon basin, they declared that the Catholic church should consider ordaining married men. The problems of Amazon communities range from the destruction of the natural environment to the persecution of its indigenous peoples. For the Catholic church, however, there is another pressing issue—it does not have anywhere near enough priests to minister to the existing Catholic population, let alone proselytise or fend off a growing challenge from Evangelical Christianity. Some Catholic figures talk of confronting a “Eucharist famine”.

The document asks the bishops who will attend the gathering, or synod, to discuss making priests of “elders, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their community, even if they have a constituted and stable family”. It also moots the idea of women taking part in what it calls “official ministry,” but quite what that could mean is unclear. The bishops would not be able to authorise the change, but they could recommend it to Francis who does have the power to enact it.

Those versed in the law and lore of Catholicism might be tempted to ask what all the fuss is about. Priestly celibacy is not required by doctrine. It is a tradition, or discipline. There were plenty of married priests in early Christianity. Even today Eastern-rite churches—those in Eastern Europe and the Middle East that have practices similar to those of the Orthodox but regard the pope as their leader—have priests with wives and children. And since 1994, when the Church of England began ordaining women, almost 400 Anglican priests have been accepted into the Catholic church, including many with families. Roughly one in 10 of the Catholic priests in England and Wales was formerly an Anglican.

Nevertheless, what is being proposed now is qualitatively different. The Eastern rite churches are exceptional in many ways and account for less than 2% of the world’s baptised Catholics. The decision by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, to open the doors to traditionalist Anglican vicars, is in effect a temporary concession. When the last of the Anglican ecclesiastical refugees dies, if no change has been made in the meantime, the Catholic priesthood of the Western or Latin rite will go back to being entirely celibate.

In contrast, a decision to ordain married men in the Amazon, however exceptional it might appear, would set a precedent for the entire church. That is in part because the problems of the Amazon reflect a broader challenge that faces the Catholic church in much of the rest of the world.

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