In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon Region, Francis disagreed with a proposal approved last year by a synod of 184 Catholic bishops under which older, married men would be allowed to become priests as a way to deal with a shortage of clerics in far-flung places such as the Amazon.
The proposal was hailed as a breakthrough by church reformers who believed it had a chance of gaining papal approval given Francis’ willingness to discuss once taboo subjects during the seven years of his papacy and previous indications he would consider the possibility of laymen carrying out priestly duties.
But the measure was strongly opposed by conservatives as a the first step toward removing the rule of celibacy upon ordination to the priesthood.
The pope ultimately sided with the conservatives by not endorsing the proposal in his teaching on the Amazon. Instead, he said the shortage of priests was only part of a larger picture that needs to be addressed by encouraging more missionaries to go to the remote region.
“Pope Francis urges all the bishops, especially those in Latin America, ‘to be more generous’ in encouraging those who ‘display a missionary vocation’ to choose the Amazon region and invites them to evaluate formation to the priesthood,” the Vatican said in a statement.
“The pope states in the exhortation that the question is not that of numbers, and that a greater presence of priests is not the only requirement,” Cardinal Michael Czerny, special secretary of the Synod for the Amazon, added.
“What is needed is new life in the communities, a new missionary impetus, new lay services, ongoing formation, boldness and creativity. What is needed is a presence at the local level of lay people who are animated by a missionary spirit and capable of representing the authentic face of the Amazonian church.”