Priests and bishops are disappointed with Pope Francis for “simply kicking the can down the road” on the relaxation of compulsory priestly celibacy in Querida Amazonía (“Beloved Amazon”), his apostolic exhortation on the Amazon Synod, published February 12.
“Doesn’t even mention it”
“The Pope simply kicked the can down the road. He doesn’t even mention the recommendation of the possibility of married deacons being ordained as priests, which was what the synod conclusions had suggested”, Bishop Robert Flock of the Diocese of San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia, told the BBC.
“As far as I’m concerned, even that [ordaining married deacons] was a non-starter because I don’t have any permanent deacons in my diocese, and the real challenge is how to provide the proper formation so that the people can take on these kinds of ministries in a serious way”, Flock explained.
“I have all kinds of beautiful chapels where priests only celebrate Mass once a year”, Flock lamented.
“We managed to build nice, nice chapels but don’t have the priests to cover the territory. In terms of my diocese, it’s 200,000 square kilometers, and I have 30 priests and 25 parishes”.
Flock did admit, though, that he wasn’t “surprised” by the Pope’s decision to punt on married priests in Querida Amazonía, explaining that “the Catholic Church moves slowly in certain areas, and this is one of those that could have cause terrible divisions in the Church”.
At any rate, said the Bolivian bishop, the Church has greater concerns than that of ordaining married men or not.
“If the Amazon rainforest is destroyed, and there is a real possibility it will be, it won’t make any difference if we have married priests or not, because the Amazon peoples will disappear”, Flock said.
“The real concern is to hear the cry of the peoples of the Amazon to save this rainforest and to save with it the planet”.
“Not sure why the U-turn”
If there was frustration palpable in Flock’s words with regard to the missed opportunity to ordain married men, that letdown was echoed by Fr John Collins, one of the conveners of the more than 1,000-strong Irish Association of Catholic Priests.
“We had great hope that there would be a positive outcome in relation to a quite serious shortage [of priests]. Clearly, that doesn’t seem to be happening now”, Collins told the Irish Times.
“I’m not quite sure why Pope Francis has done a U-turn on this really because we had been led to believe there was going to be a positive response”.
Collins added that it was “worrying” that an increasingly small number of priests in the Amazon is going to be “further stretched” with the Pope’s apparent refusal to allow married men to function as priests.
“We’re talking about one of the poorest places on the planet and one of the most environmentally disastrous geographical areas on the planet, where it’s struggling”, Collins explained.
“I mean, we have no idea what struggle is in this country compared to how people there are struggling, and it’s just sad. I feel a bit sad, actually”.
Vatican, senior Church figures: “Discussion will continue”
Flock and the ACP’s criticisms of the papal document released yesterday came as senior Church officials, including in the Vatican, were insisting that the question of compulsory clerical celibacy is “by no means off the table” with Querida Amazonía, as German Cardinal Reinhard Marx put it.
“As is well known, the two-thirds majority of the 280 [synodal fathers] in the final synodal document also advocated for exceptions to compulsory celibacy and stimulated further reflection on the admission of women to the diaconate”, Marx said in a statement.
“Against the background of the reform proposals discussed in Germany, these issues were particularly well received by the Church and public, but they were not the main topics of the synod”.
“This discussion will continue” in the wake of Querida Amazonía, Marx insisted.
Synod Special Secretary Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ had already explained that “the Church in the Amazon, and indeed the Church everywhere, is welcome and invited to consider all of the proposals” contained in the Synod final document, “so the ‘Querida Amazonia’ doesn’t resolve or close any of the questions”.
“Will be taken up again”
Meanwhile, relator general of the Amazon Synod Cardinal Cláudio Hummes told Brazilian paper O Estadão that the proposal for the ordination of married men in remote areas will be taken up again in the future by the Vatican.
“This issue should now be worked on with the Pope, at the level of the Holy See. It will be taken up again… this matter will have to be developed and completed”, Hummes stated, referring to the work that now begins of the Post-Synodal Council, set up by the Pope to put into practice the conclusions of the Synod.
The cardinal added that the Synod final document, voted by a majority of the Synod participants but not quoted by the Pope in his exhortation, “will not go on the shelf” never to be picked up again.
Instead, the Church now “must be committed to its application”, Hummes explained.