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Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes

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Pope Francis’ choice to oversee Amazon Synod suggests married priests on the horizon

VATICAN CITY, May 6, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has appointed Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes to serve as “relator general” of the upcoming Amazon Synod, further fueling suspicions that the Vatican is setting the stage for ordaining married priests.  

The Associated Press reported last October that “with the growing clergy sex abuse scandal and declining number of priests worldwide,” the Vatican “is laying the groundwork to open formal debate on an issue that has long been taboo: opening up the priesthood to married men in parts of the world where clergy are scarce.”

Months before his appointment was announced, Cardinal Hummes seemed to confirm this, hinting in an interview that the coming Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region may decide whether to ordain married men to the priesthood in order to serve the vast tropical region.

Hummes told Terra in March that for the “lack of priests,” 70 percent of the people in the nine countries covering the Amazonian region do not receive the sacraments of the Church. The bishops from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela will meet at the Vatican in October “to identify new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region,” especially indigenous peoples who are “often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future.”

Asked whether viri probati (proven men) may be ordained in order to address the lack of priests in the Amazon, Cardinal Hummes said Pope Francis “speaks of new ways.” The search for new ways, he said, includes a discussion about ministries.

Hummes predicted, “The Synod is going to say yes or no” as to whether married men may be ordained to the priesthood in the West. “But from what has been seen in preparation so far,” he said, “it will be necessary to discuss this issue of ministries in the Amazon Church in a particular way. It does not mean it is for everyone, but for that situation of extreme need.” In the interview, when asked whether women might be ordained to the priesthood and diaconate, he answered: “This is much more remote.”

In 2014, just a year and a half after Francis’ election to the papacy, Cardinal Hummes showed some openness to ordaining married men but was circumspect about the possibility of ordaining women. Regarding statements by the pope, the cardinal indicated that a celibate clergy for the Latin rite is “not dogma.” In that interview, he said there are some things the pope cannot change, such as Church teaching on abortion. “Regarding the celibacy of priests, I have already said that it is not a dogma and therefore the Church can rethink. But this has not yet come into question.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following about eligibility for the priesthood:

All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,” they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.

In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry.

Regarding the structure of the synod, Cardinal Hummes said the bishops of the nine countries will participate along with auxiliaries, of whom he said there “will be a good number of Indians.” He added, “The Pope wants indigenous people to be fundamental and indispensable interlocutors this year.” In the interview, he focused on the recurrent themes of his pastoral work: the environment and the rights of indigenous peoples. When asked about the relationship of the Church with newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro, Cardinal Hummes rejected any suggestions that the Church is “left-wing” or opposed to the government. As to the rights of indigenous peoples and their land, the cardinal did express some concern while adding that “climate crisis” is indeed serious.

Cardinal Hummes, 75, was professed a priest of the Franciscan order in 1958 and was elevated to the cardinalate by Pope John Paul II in 2001. An outspoken proponent of social justice, he has often appeared alongside socialists such as Luiz Lula da Silva, who later became president  of Brazil.

Preservation of the natural environment, deforestation, poverty, and the formation of clergy are also topics for discussion by the bishops, who represent more than 34 million people of majority-Catholic countries covering some 18.5 million acres.

The Amazon Synod will take place from October 6 through October 27 in Rome.  

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