The head of the Irish Catholic Church has come out in favor of being open to priests getting married after recent comments on the issue by Pope Francis seemed to bar marriage.

When asked how he feels about priests potentially being able to get married, the Armagh Archbishop Eamon Martin said: “This question is still open. I am open to this question in the Church. I think Pope Francis realizes this is a question where there is a lot of divided thinking. 

“I am very much open to the idea of this, and I think Pope Francis is too.”

He spoke on RTE’s Morning Ireland and said he “warmly welcomed” Pope Francis’ exhortation.

“I understand there has been a disappointment that perhaps this was a moment that Pope Francis was going to express his views on the ordination of married men as priests,” Archbishop Martin said.

“But I think Pope Francis would be disappointed if this is the issue we are all talking about today. His exhortation is a huge cry from the Amazon and a cry from the heart to try to protect that region that is being cruelly destroyed. His exhortation … is really a call for the protection of the Earth.

Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Archbishop Eamon Martin.

“Yes, indeed, the ordination of married in men in a very small area of the world, in the Amazonian region, where some communities are not able to have access to the Eucharist on a frequent basis, is something that people were expecting Pope Francis to deal with.

“He chose not to mention it actually… He’s actually left the question, I think he’s done so in order to encourage all of us to focus on much bigger questions about Church ministry and organization, the involvement of lay people in the Church, the involvement of women in the Church. He calls on the local church there to actually officially recognize these roles in a way which it hasn’t done until now.”

When asked how he feels about priests potentially being able to get married, the Armagh Archbishop said: “This question is still open. I am open to this question in the Church. I think Pope Francis realizes this is a question where there is a lot of divided thinking. 

“I am very much open to the idea of this, and I think Pope Francis is too.”

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On February 12, Pope Francis issued the apostolic exhortation about the state of the Catholic Church in the Amazon, but many criticized his failure to address the October synod of 184 bishops who concluded that “respected” older, married men should be allowed to become priests in the region.

The decision was made as Amazonian representatives said that Catholics in the region sometimes go months without receiving the Eucharist due to a lack of clergy.

In his exhortation, entitled “Querida Amazonia” (“Beloved Amazon”), Pope Francis instead placed the focus on expanding missions to the region.

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The day after the exhortation was published, two of Ireland’s leading figures in the Catholic Church responded.

Father Paddy Byrne, a parish priest in Co Laois, told RTE Morning Ireland on February 13 that he was “taken aback” and “disappointed personally” about the Pope’s exhortation, and that he believes “about 85 percent” of priests in Ireland share his views.

While Father Byrne acknowledged that the Pope’s missive was “very positive” in terms of climate change, justice, and generally supporting the Amazonian communities, he said: “At the heart of the response, a community of people in the Amazon region, a huge region, are hungry for faith, that are really alive in their own faith as personally relating to the lord, and that there seems now to be a self-imposed famine by virtue of alienating women and men to administer the Eucharist for them in that sense of putting that famine and allowing that famine to continue.

“The answer is very easy, as was presented by the bishops in October,” said Father Byrne, who added he feels the Pope’s response was “a real U-Turn on that directive.”

When asked why he thought the Pope largely ignored the Bishops’ October vote in his exhortation, Father Byrne said: “I have no doubt that there was a wider influence on him. There continues to be real tension in the Church between a model of Church that, certainly in Ireland, isn’t working where rank can come before people.“This loyalty to an institution that’s extremely clerical that alienates women that maybe doesn’t concern itself where most people are at.

“I think we live in a gray zone where we as the Church have a responsibility to listen and to be present in the bits and pieces of the complex pieces where life is.”

Concerned about the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Father Byrne cited a recent funeral where the majority of the priests in attendance were over the age of 66.

“We’re not far away from the reality of what is being felt by the people in the Amazon region, hungry for the Eucharist,” Father Byrne said. “And now, a self-imposed famine is being put upon them.”

He added: “There are probably more bishops in Ireland at the moment than there are young men in the formation for priesthood. I think if we don’t change ourselves in this country, we’re facing the exact same reality.”

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Archbishop Eamon Martin (RollingNews.ie)

Archbishop Eamon Martin (RollingNews.ie)

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