Amazon exhortation - Pope 'hasn't shut door' to optional celibacy

Amazon exhortation: Bishops, theologians, observers continue to insist Pope “hasn’t shut door” to optional celibacy

Bishops, theologians and Church observers are continuing to insist that the Pope “hasn’t shut the door” to optional celibacy in his post-Synod for the Amazon exhortation, Querida Amazonia (QA).

“The Pope has only avoided proceeding with hasty solutions”

“People have claimed that Francis ‘closed the door’ to the possibility of ordaining some married men, as well as excluding other proposals from the Synod”, close papal confidante and Archbishop of La Plata (Argentina), Víctor Manuel Fernández, wrote February 17 in the official Vatican paper L’Osservatore Romano.

“The truth is that Francis on this issue has not closed or opened doors, he has only avoided proceeding with hasty solutions”, Fernández explained.

The archbishop continued: “It should not be forgotten that in the introduction of his exhortation he [the Pope] writes: ‘I will not go into all of the issues treated at length in the final [Synod] document’ (n. 2)”, which document did decide, by a two-thirds majority of the bishops present, for the ordination as priests of married permanent deacons.

“So, if in Querida Amazonia he [the Pope] does not mention a point, it is not because he excludes its further development, but because it is evident that he did not want to repeat the final document, to the point of having avoided mentioning it. Francis clearly says: ‘Nor do I claim to replace that text or to duplicate it’ (n. 2). If he doesn’t replace it, he doesn’t deny it”, Fernández explained.

“That [the Pope] does not want to replace [the final Synod document] is so clear that the only thing he does is ‘officially present’ it [n. 3]”, the Argentinian prelate continued.

“Although it is not a canonical approval that gives the synodal document a special magisterial character, it nevertheless gives it a particular strength given that the Pope asks all bishops and pastoral agents in the Amazon to commit themselves to ‘strive to apply it’ (the final Synod document; n. 4). The document must therefore be applied. It is about its reception, and the term ‘application’ leads us to think of creative and effective reception”, Fernández claimed.

“Obviously for some of the proposed themes this application will be simpler, while for others it will be much slower and more complex, or will have to follow the appropriate channels, but this new procedure, which consists in drawing up a ‘complementary’ exhortation to the concluding document of the Synod, is a great novelty”, the Archbishop of La Plata emphasised.”

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“This was not the final decision on the issue”

Another bishop following Fernández’s lead and insisting Querida Amazonia doesn’t close the door to married priests in the future was Austrian-Brazilian bishop Erwin Kräutler, the retired head of the Xingu prelature in the Amazon region.

Kräutler admitted to the CNS February 13 that he was “surprised” by the Pope’s glossing over the issue of optional celibacy and married priests in his response to the Amazon Synod, “since more than two-thirds of the bishops at the synod voted in favor of the ordination of married men”.

“There are dozens of communities here [in the Amazon] that have the Eucharist two or three times a year. Some of these people feel they are excluded from the church… We cannot deprive these people in remote places of the center of our faith, which is the Eucharist”, Kräutler continued.

But the bishop added, along the lines of Fernández’s argument, that the Pope in his exhortation “made it clear that this was not the final decision on the issue” of married priests.

“We expect that the issue be revisited in the near future. I believe Pope Francis thought the idea was not yet mature to put into practice”, explained Kräutler.

Kräutler later repeated those same positive sentiments in an interview with the Swiss Bishops’ website kath.ch February 17, in which he said “I think that the issue [of the ordination of married men] will continue to be raised, especially by the bishops, who, like me, voted in favor of the ordination of ‘viri probati’ [married men of proven faith] at the Synod”.

“I believe that the Synod probably served to launch the debate on this subject. Because basically we didn’t assume that the Pope would immediately agree. This is because we first have to reach an agreement that is accepted by the Catholic Church around the world”, the retired Austrian-Brazilian bishop explained.

“The door remains open for local Churches to discern”

In the same vein as Fernández and Kräutler, Venzuelan theologian and Synod consultant Rafael Luciani wrote in the National Catholic Reporter February 18 that “othing has been ‘shut’, as many may believe, but rather ‘the journey continues’ (QA, 2-4)”.

But Luciani added:

“The most important thing will not be whether the proposal for viri probati… is approved. The most important thing is whether the door remains open for local Churches to ‘discern and make the pastoral decision’ according to ‘what the Code of Canon Law already establishes’ in relation to this issue, from the request made by a local bishop.

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“The code provides the procedure by which bishops can discern the needs of the communities and, based on those needs, inquire about the possibility of ordaining married men. The code also orients the diaconate toward communities’ sacramental needs. This was clarified during the Synod debates”, the Venezuelan theologian explained.

In other words, according to Luciani: the ball is in the court of local Amazonian bishops to now formally request the ordination of married men, according to their “communities’ sacramental needs”.

“I have no doubt it will happen”

Like Luciani, another Synod consultant – Mauricio López, general secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Eclesial Network (REPAM) – told Austrian Catholic news service Kathpress February 16 that the papal exhortation is “an invitation to continue to create paths and channels” that could lead to the ordination of married men.

“I have no doubt that this will happen”, López said, recalling that married priests are already a reality in the Eastern and Ordinariate Catholic Churches.

“So we’re talking about something that already exists”, López explained.

“When there are conflicts, we need to find new solutions”

Exactly how the door may remain open, and widen, to the eventuality of married priests was explained February 12 by close papal advisor Antonio Spadaro SJ in the semi-official Vatican publication La Civiltà Cattolica.

“… [T]he engine of the exhortation”, Spadaro explained, “is in the tenth paragraph of the fourth chapter, entitled ‘Expanding Horizons Beyond Conflicts’.

“When there are complex issues” – such as on the issue of married priests, or women deacons, another Synod proposal – “the pope asks us to go beyond contradictions”, the Jesuit continued.

“When there are polarities and conflicts, we need to find new solutions, to break the impasse by looking for other better ways, perhaps not imagined before. Transcending dialectic oppositions is one of the fundamental action criteria for the pontiff. It is always good to keep this in mind”, Spadaro said.

“The Synod document remains on the table”

Fernández, Kräutler, Luciani, López and Spadaro’s arguments are all consistent with what tuned-in observers have been saying too: that in the words of veteran Vatican correspondent Marco Politi, “the document of the synod, approved by the bishops, remains on the table”.

“If spaces open up, [the Pope] will always be able take the deliberations on ordaining married deacons as priests out of the drawer. They have a value that does not expire”, Politi wrote.

Luigi Accattoli, another long-serving Vatican observer, observed for his part that the Pope’s exhortation “does not respond positively to the requests for reform that have been put forward, but neither does it reject them”.

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“In substance, the questions asked remain open. It is as if instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the pope said: ‘let’s wait'”, Accattoli wrote.

“Perhaps Bergoglio, in drawing up the conclusions of the work of the synod, felt that none of these matters was ripe enough to allow a normative, canonical decision”, the Vaticanist continued.

“Perhaps the opposition of traditionalist circles made him want to postpone until the fruits are ripe.

“The fact is that he has chosen not to enter into “disputed matters,” as they say in ecclesiastical language. With this choice he has achieved — it seems to me — a double result: to loosen — at least momentarily — the traditionalist siege and to keep the questions open”.

Novena’s coverage of reactions to the post-Amazon Synod apostolic exhortation:

Catholic women raise stakes after Amazon exhortation ordination denial, call for abolition of all Church hierarchies

Irish Primate, on married priests: “I am very much open to the idea, and I think Pope Francis is too”

Despite Amazon exhortation letdown, German bishops, laity pledge to fight on in synodal path for married priests, female deacons

Despite Amazon Synod snub, global Catholic women vow to “take responsibility for our Church into our hands”

Amazon exhortation: lay groups lament Francis’ “lack of courage for real reforms” on married priests, women

‘Querida Amazonía’: Priests, bishops disappointed with Pope for “simply kicking can down road” on celibacy

Women’s ordination advocates blast Amazon exhortation: “Outdated”, “institutional sexism”, “degradation”, “discrimination”

Catholic aid org CIDSE welcomes Amazon exhortation: “A poetic call to undertake radical changes”

‘Querida Amazonía’: 7 of the Pope’s most powerful political statements, beyond the Church debates

Amazon exhortation: Vatican cardinal insists Pope “has not resolved” questions of married priesthood, women’s diaconate

Amazon exhortation: Vatican editorial director explains ‘no’ (for now?) to married priests, female deacons

In Amazon exhortation, Pope puts need for greater Church “inculturation” above married priests, female deacons

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.