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Pope Francis asks Brazilian bishops to discuss overturning priestly celibacy: report

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ROME, November 2, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis has allegedly asked that Brazilian bishops discuss overturning the discipline of priestly celibacy to make up for a shortage of priests, reported The Telegraph today, citing Vatican sources in the Italian paper Il Messaggero

The Pope made the decision to allow a discussion and possible vote among the bishops regarding priestly celibacy following a request made by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, reported The Telegraph

Cardinal Hummes is a close and influential friend of Pope Francis. He stood beside the Pope on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in 2013 when Pope Francis was introduced for the first time. The Pope credited Hummes for helping him select the name “Francis.” 

Cardinal Hummes, former head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, has said that he could not know whether Jesus would oppose gay “marriage.” He has also slammed the four dubia Cardinals for raising concerns about the Pope’s controversial exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love). 

Last year, liberation theologian Leonardo Boff claimed that Pope Francis may move to allow married priests in Brazil after the Pope spoke with Cardinal Hummes about the issue of a shortage of priests.  

“The Brazilian bishops, especially the Pope’s close friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, have expressly requested Pope Francis to enable married priests in Brazil to return to their pastoral ministry,” Boff said at that time. 

Boff related that the Pope wanted to go ahead with the request, as an experiment “for the moment confined to Brazil.”

Former director of the Holy See Press Office Fr. Federico Lombardi said in 2015 that the Brazilian bishops have the ear of Pope Francis. 

“It is, however, true that the pope has invited the Brazilian bishops on more than one occasion to seek and propose with courage the pastoral solutions that they believe to be suitable for addressing the major pastoral problems of their country,” he said.

Married priests: A lead-up to the 2019 Synod?

The news comes weeks after Pope Francis announced a special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region in Latin America in October 2019. It is suspected that ‘married priests’ will be high on the agenda. The synod will take place in Rome.

It's the first time Pope Francis has called a synod for a specific region, reported Crux Now, adding that John Paul II only called such synods to signal a special concern. 

Vatican expert Sandro Magister outlined in 2015 how married priests could well become the next battle at the Synod of Bishops.

Retired Brazilian Bishop Erwin Kräutler has added his voice in asking that the Pan-Amazon Synod permit married men to become ordained as well as women to become permanent deacons. 

Bishop Kräutler, secretary of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, told Kathpress that such a move on the part of the Latin American Church was necessary because of a “horrendous” shortage of priests.

The German weekly Die Zeit reported last week that Bishop Kräutler and others have already submitted a document to Pope Francis outlining their strategy for introducing married priests and female deacons. 

The Austria-born bishop, described by his critics as a radical modernist, led the Brazilian Diocese of Xingu from 1981 to 2015. 

Bishop Kräutler said that addressing the priest shortage would make up one of the key components of the Synod, reported La Croix

Criteria for admission to the priesthood, he said, must be altered so that married men can become ordained priests. He also said it was urgent to ordain female deacons since many women already headed small Catholic communities.

Kräutler said that Pope Francis’s calling of the Synod shows his determination to strengthen episcopal collegiality. 

Pope Francis has made great efforts to decentralize magisterial authority in the Church so that bishop groups have the power to make moral decisions and shape liturgy in ways that may even contradict other bishop groups. Critics fear that such a move will undermine the unity of the Church in her belief and teaching, one of the four marks of the true Church. 

In March Pope Francis said he was willing to consider married priests in the Catholic Church as an answer to the Church’s shortage of priests.

“We have to think about if the viri probati are a possibility,” Pope Francis said in the interview with German newspaper Die Zeit at that time. Viri probati means “proven” or “tested” men, or, in this context, married men who have proven virtuous or faithful.

“Then we also have to discern which tasks they can take on, for example, in forlorn communities,” he continued.

“There is much talk about voluntary celibacy, especially there where the clergy is lacking. But a voluntary celibacy is not a solution,” he added. 

The Church’s law of clerical celibacy is not a doctrine, but a discipline that came into effect in the 12th century after the Second Lateran Council. The Catholic Church does include some Eastern Rite churches that allow married clergy. And certain married priests of other Christian faiths, such as with the Anglican Ordinariate, can continue to serve as married priests when they convert to Catholicism.

The discipline of priestly celibacy follows the example of Jesus himself. Priests are called to act in persona Christi, that is, “in the person of Christ.” The discipline also follows St. Paul, who taught in his letter to the Corinthians that a celibate man is “concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord.” The discipline is based, in part, on the understanding that a married man cannot adequately give himself simultaneously to both the Church and a family.  

Canon law states regarding celibacy that “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.”

News of the Pan-Amazon Synod comes 14 months after Pope Francis set up a 12-member commission headed by Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer to research the subject of women deaconesses. Archbishop Ferrer was then the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. He now heads the same Congregation, replacing Cardinal Muller. 

Critics see the push for a female diaconate as part of the overall push for a female priesthood. 

The Catholic Church has long held that women’s ordination is an ontological impossibility because Jesus ordained only men. The Church teaches that being male is essential to priesthood and in the priest’s ability to act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that only a baptized man can validly receive sacred ordination (CCC 1577). 

In 1994, Pope St. John Paul II decreed that the Church’s teaching barring women from sacred orders was definitive. 

“In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” he wrote in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

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