Pope Francis on Wednesday refused to speak on the controversial idea of married priests but instead pleaded for social justice and environmental respect for the Amazon basin.
In a highly anticipated text, Francis urged Catholics to “feel outraged” over the exploitation of indigenous people and destruction of land devastated by illegal mining and deforestation.
But there was no mention of priestly marriage, a controversial suggestion made by Amazon bishops last October as a way to increase the number of priests who could perform Mass in remote areas.
Instead, the pope argued for more missionaries and for women and lay people to take larger roles in the region. He also urged more training for priests to better interact with Amazonian cultures.
Francis has weighed in before on the hotly debated question of whether to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood in remote locations.
In January last year, he said he did not believe that optional celibacy should be allowed but conceded “some possibilities for far-flung places”, a statement that opened the door to speculation that he might make an exception for the Amazon.
In 2017, Francis convened 184 bishops — over 60 per cent of whom hailed from the Amazon region — to reflect on the Amazon.
Among other proposals in a final document, the bishops suggested ordaining “suitable and esteemed men of the community” who had “a legitimately constituted and stable family”.
But the suggestion aroused fierce opposition from traditionalists within the Church, concerned that exceptions could pave the way to the abolition of priest celibacy globally.
Francis’ text released on Wednesday was a so-called apostolic exhortation in response to the bishops’ document.