In a document released on Monday, the Catholic Church announced that the question will be debated at a synod – a special meeting – to be held at the Vatican from October 6-27, potentially leading to a significant change in church rules.
“While affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, it is asked that for the most remote areas of the region, the possibility of priestly ordination of elders, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their community, even those who already have stable and consolidated families, be studied in order to ensure the sacraments to accompany and sustain Christian life,” the preparatory document for the synod said.
According to the Vatican, the Amazon region includes parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname, which has a population of 2.8 million people consisting of 400 indigenous tribes that speak some 240 languages.
The region is experiencing a shortage of priests and Pope Francis called for a special meeting of the region’s bishops to tackle its problems.
The proposal to allow married men to be ordained priests, called “viri probati,” has been floated before at the Vatican. In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit in March 2017, Pope Francis said he was open to studying its possibility.
“We need to consider if ‘viri probati’ could be a possibility,” he said. “If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities.”
Although the Catholic Church currently only ordains unmarried men to the priesthood, some converts, from Anglicanism for example, are allowed to become Catholic priests even if they are already married.
The proposals would not affect the current practice of mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests, which the Pope has said won’t change.
The special meeting will also consider official church roles for women in the Amazon, although the working document does not specify which roles.
Bishop Erwin Krautler, Secretary for the Commission on the Pan-Amazon Region, said that the meeting will not only include the discussion of married men, “We don’t speak only about viri probati, because it’s exclusionary. We also want to include women,” he told CNN.
On the issue of the ordination of women, Francis has appeared to put himself squarely on the side of his predecessors, with a resounding no to women’s ordination.
When asked by a reporter in 2016, Francis cited the declaration of St. John Paul II, adding that “the final word is clear” and “it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains.”
The synod will also include discussion of indigenous people and environmental issues in the Amazon, such as deforestation.
“We propose that governments are asked to rigorously regulate industry and denounce those that pollute the environment,” the 50-page working document says.
The proposals also highlight the importance of “traditional medicine, the wisdom of elders and indigenous rituals.”
According to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary for the Synod, some 20 indigenous people from the Amazon will be in attendance at the Vatican meeting in October.