The Catholic Church Vatican is considering allowing older, married men to become priests in remote areas like the Amazon in South America, according to a new Vatican document.

The recommendation is included in the "Instrumentum Laboris" — or Working Document, prepared in advance of a synod of bishops from the Amazon scheduled to take place at the Vatican in October.

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It calls on the church to consider the far-reaching move as a way to overcome the shortage of clergy in remote Amazon areas.

St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Vatican. Image: Getty

St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Vatican. Image: Getty

It could potentially unveil a change in its centuries-old requirement that priests must be celibate in a document suggesting older married men may be ordained in remote areas of the Amazon.

A working document for the event says the possibility of ordaining “viri probati” – Latin for “men of proven virtue” – should be discussed.

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“While affirming that celibacy is a gift for the church, there have been requests that, for the most remote areas of the region, the possibility of conferring priestly ordination on elderly men is discussed,” the document reads.

“Communities have difficulty in celebrating the Eucharist frequently due to the lack of priests. For this reason, instead of leaving the communities without the Eucharist, the criteria of selection and preparation of the ministers authorized to celebrate it should be changed.”

Priests participating in the central mass of the Corpus Christi festival in Plaza De Armas. Image: Getty

Priests participating in the central mass of the Corpus Christi festival in Plaza De Armas. Image: Getty

The Vatican's news release notes the multitude of local cultures and vast distances in the Amazon region create a "serious pastoral problem" that can’t be solved by "mechanical and technological means alone."

"It is necessary to move from a 'Church that visits' to a 'Church that remains'" and is present through local ministers.

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The document suggests priests should be “preferably indigenous, respected and accepted members of their communities,” and could also enter the priesthood “even if they already have a family that is established and stable, in order to ensure the sacraments that accompany and sustain the Christian life”.

The opening up of debate at the highest levels of the church will boost those arguing for a general relaxation of the celibacy rule.

Proposal would not eliminate a celibacy rule

However, Fr. Miguel Yáñez, Moral Theologian at Pontifical Gregorian University explains this is not the first time the ordination of non-celibate men has been up for question in the Church.

In fact, the Catholic Church already recognizes the priesthood of married men. For example, Benedict XVI allowed married Anglican priests into the Catholic Church.

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"It's not the first time this exception would be made," he told ROMEREPORTS.

"This exists in the Church. The pope can expand it, and apply the exception to additional cases."

"Yet, it is up to the synod participants to discuss this issue during their assembly from October 6 to 27. The Vatican says this would only open an exception, not eliminate a rule."

Women's role in the Catholic Church

The church also says it's looking at the role women might play in the region.

While the document says "the kind of official ministry" for women is "still to be identified," it says there is "a proposal to guarantee them their leadership." 

The document acknowledges that within the church “the feminine presence in communities isn’t always valued."

The kind of official ministry that can be conferred on women is still to be identified, taking into account the central role women play today in the Church in the Amazon.

"It is demanded that the role of women be recognized, starting from their charisms and talents. They ask to re-appropriate themselves of the space given to women by Jesus, “where we can all find ourselves.”

There is also a proposal to guarantee them their leadership, as well as wider and more relevant spaces in the field of formation: theology, catechesis, liturgy and schools of faith and politics.

What are your thoughts on these proposals to tackle clergy shortages?
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Pope Francis. The Catholic Church Vatican is considering allowing older, married men to become priests in remote areas like the Amazon in South America, according to a new Vatican document.Getty Images