An Italian theologian has levelled accusations of a “serious distortion of the truth” at the ultraconservatives trying to blackmail Pope Francis with accusations of heresy if the pontiff allows optional celibacy for priests.

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“To accuse of doctrinal infidelity the proposal made by the majority of the bishops of the Synod on the Amazon to be able to ordain married men for the most remote communities of that region – often deprived for years of the Eucharist – and to threaten the Pope with the same accusation, if he accepts it [the Amazon Synod proposal], is a decidedly indecent operation”, priest and theologian Severino Dianich wrote in the February edition of Vita Pastorale, according to SIR.

“That of celibacy is undoubtedly an important value for the life of the Church, but radicalising the problem, as if the fidelity of the Church to its tradition and to Catholic doctrine itself is in question, is a serious distortion of the truth”, Dianich denounced.

The theologian recalled the Francis’ last three predecessors “have already decreed the possibility of making exceptions to the rule of compulsory celibacy, determining in detail the conditions and procedures”.

“The Pope’s possible decision to establish a further possibility of ordaining married men, to meet a particularly serious situation in some Christian communities, would be nothing more than the extension of what previous Popes before him already established, also to adequately address particular situations”, Dianich wrote.

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Dianich’s commentary came as Catholic media outlets have given conflicting reports in the last few days on Pope Francis’ final decision on the Amazon Synod proposal to implement optional celibacy and ordain married permanent deacons of the region to the priesthood.

Corrispondenza Romana reported January 31 that the Pope’s post-synodal exhortation would “abolish” priestly celibacy, but Vatican sources said the document leaked to that paper was a draft.

La Fede Quotidiana on February 2 then promptly reported that the exhortation takes up neither the question of priestly celibacy nor that of the ordination of viri probati, married “men of proven faith”.

Why it matters

The predictable ultraconservative outrage that followed the original Corrispondenza Romana report led the para-Vatican Il Sismografo blog to accuse those speculating on the contents of the post-synodal exhortation of “a new campaign of lies” in a new stage of the battle anti-Francis forces have been waging over the nearly six years of his pontificate.

“To say – and to repeat insistently as has been done for days – that Francis is preparing to abolish ecclesiastical celibacy is a gigantic lie!”, the editors of Il Sismografo denounced.

The blog recalled that what is actually at stake in the Pope’s decision is by no means the abolition of clerical celibacy in its totality, but rather exceptions to the disciplinary rule, in the line of previous popes.

“The anti-Bergoglian Catholic right is interested in one thing: that the Amazon continue to be ‘private property’ only for some groups, a sort of controlled garden from which to loot everything that can be transformed into money”, Il Sismografo said.

In that regard, the blog brought to mind the Pope’s own plea, after the Synod, that the Church not focus on the “little things” that concern “elite Christians” – like optional celibacy – at the expense of the Synod’s “diagnoses” of cultural, social, pastoral and ecological issues in the Amazonian region.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.