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Pope Francis Sidesteps Comment On Catholic Ban On Married Priests In The Amazon


Pope Francis issued a document today that many people expected would ease the church's ban on married priests. South American bishops had suggested it could address a shortage of clergy, but as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, Francis sidestepped the issue.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The pope's document, called Beloved Amazon, is a love letter to a region whose natural resources are increasingly exploited by industries. At a Vatican press conference, a video showed images of lush rainforests with Indigenous peoples.


POGGIOLI: The document is the pope's follow-up to an assembly of South American bishops held here in October, but nowhere does the pope address the bishops' request that older married men in their communities be ordained as priests. In remote regions of the Amazon, there's such a shortage of priests that the faithful often don't see a member of the clergy for months at a time. Cardinal Michael Czerny, organizer of the bishops' assembly, was evasive when asked whether Pope Francis completely ruled out the possibility of ordaining married men.


MICHAEL CZERNY: I think if you are looking for a kind of closure so that you can end your article with a punch, I'm afraid there isn't that kind of closure.

POGGIOLI: Czerny appeared to leave open the possibility the proposals have not been definitively rejected.


CZERNY: So the particular proposals, which are of many different kinds, remain on the table.

POGGIOLI: Many Vatican watchers attributed the papal dodge on the controversial request as a victory for traditionalists who oppose Francis. They fear a waiver for priests in the Amazon could trigger a total abolition of the celibacy requirement. However, Robert Mickens editor at the Catholic daily La Croix, believes the pope wants the conversation to continue.

ROBERT MICKENS: And I can foresee, in two months' time or six months' time, the bishops conference of Brazil, for example, coming to the pope and saying, we have voted on this, and with unanimity, we believe we need - and we believe the Holy Spirit is telling us we need married priests. What's the pope going to do then? I think he would approve it.

POGGIOLI: As to the other Amazon bishops' request, that women be ordained as deacons, Francis discouraged the idea, saying women should be allowed to serve in a way that reflects their womanhood. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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