Rome (CNN)Pope Francis opened a highly contentious three-week summit Sunday that could potentially clear the way for some married men to become Catholic priests.
Pope opens meeting that could lead to some married men becoming priests
The meeting -- which focuses on environmental and religious issues in the Amazon region -- will take up the question of whether some respected married elder men could be ordained to help overcome a shortage of priests in remote areas in the region.
If approved, it would be a first for the Catholic church and overturn centuries of tradition of a celibate priesthood.
That possibility has caused outrage among Conservative groups who have been protesting with prayer vigils after American Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan called for "a crusade of prayer and fasting" for 40 days throughout the meeting.
Earlier this week, some 200 Catholics, calling themselves a "spiritual army" stood in formation, rosaries in hand, under the statue of St. Michael the Archangel near the Vatican, to pray for the meeting, also called a Synod.
The battle over ordaining married men may not turn out to be as contentious as some fear, however.
Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican's powerful office for bishops and will be voting in the synod, said he is leaning against the proposal.
"I am skeptical, and I think I am not the only one," Ouellet said at a news conference in Rome on Wednesday.
"There is someone above me who is even more skeptical who has authorized the debate and that's OK," he said, in an apparent reference to Pope Francis.
Conservatives are not the only groups dissatisfied with the meeting.
Catholic women's groups, including nuns, have also been protesting with signs in front of the Vatican, demanding the right to vote in the gathering.
A total of 185 men, consisting of priests and bishops, will be voting on the proposals. A group of 35 women, mostly nuns, will be participating, but they do not have the right to vote.