The situation at the beginning of the XXI century can be described as unfolding in an atmosphere of total crisis of all conservative institutions, whether social or cultural. And religious institutions also are no exception. No wonder that in such a situation of profound crisis facing the oldest and most powerful of them — the Roman Catholic Church.
The symptoms of this crisis are manifested in many things. For example, that the current Pope Francis I has decided to change the text of the prayer “our father”. However it concerns not only prayer, but also conservative institutions within the Catholicism. Perhaps one of the most famous of which is celibacy the ancient tradition of celibacy imposed on all Catholic clergy.
And the first signs that the crisis of this institution can not pass without consequences, appear in the far periphery “of the Roman world” – far away from castle of St. Peter the Amazon jungle.
October 6, Catholic bishops from around the world gathered in the Vatican to discuss the future of the Church in the Amazon. In a few weeks about 260 participants prepared to talk about climate change, migration and evangelization in the region. Pope Francis, opening meeting high, dedicated his speech to condemnation of the destructive “interests” of the powerful, which led to the recent large-scale fires in the Amazon. “The fire of God is heat, which attracts and brings together. It is fed by love, not profit,” he said.
But even before the opening of the Synod, one topic dominated the message headers associated with it: whether to allow married men to become priests?
One of the points “Instruum Labouris”, working document of a future Synod, contains a suggestion that in remote parts of the Amazon should be allowed the ordination of older, married men. According to the document, it should be the people you particularly respect in indigenous communities, and at the same time they are required to be natives of the communities where they intend to work. The South American bishops are in favor of it, trying to solve the problem of shortage of priests in the region.
For the functioning of Catholic parishes this is not an idle question. Only priests can offer the Eucharist, which is a key part of the mass. It is expected that at least 85% of villages in the Amazon are unable to hold services every week because of this staff shortage, and some people see a priest only once a year.
“Pope Francis himself is from Latin America and he instinctively understands the challenges of this region,” says Professor Gregory Ryan from the Center for Catholic studies. According to him, understanding how a small number of priests is in the Amazon, is the main reason that the Pope is ready to seriously approach this issue.
The crux of the matter
Pope Francis has already done on this issue cautious statements. Some time ago, he said he may consider the question of the ordination of married men under very certain circumstances and solely to address the shortage of Catholic priests. He talked about opening this opportunity for those who are in the tradition of the Catholic Church called “viri probati” – married men of strong faith, often with older children.
Such people, according to him, may work in isolated areas. Despite their remarks about the limited possibility of membership in the Church of married men, the Pope excluded the renunciation of celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood as a whole. According to him, such a radical step to relieve the shortage of priests “is not a solution” issue.
However, such a shortage of personnel is one of the most serious problems facing the Catholic Church, and not only in the Amazon region. A quarter of Catholic parishes around the world currently do not have a permanent priest. Parishes created in Europe hundreds of years ago no longer meet the demands of the changing world. Although the total number of priests worldwide has remained more or less stable and equals approximately 400,000 ordained, but even the annual increase of about 900 people is not able to fully prepare a replacement for the ever-aging priesthood.Supporters of the reform of ordination in the past has suggested that married men can be part of the clergy when performing the priestly duties. Now such half measures may not be sufficient. The population is growing faster than the Vatican ordains new clergy.
At the moment Roman-Catholic priests are required to observe the rule of celibacy at the ordination of the very rare exceptions. Celibacy is seen as a symbol of the dedication of his life to God, although this rule does not apply to the Church of the Eastern Rite.
Conservatives and liberals
For many, celibacy is a key part of the life of a Catholic priest. It is assumed that the priest is in Alliance only with God and not distracted by what some consider mundane concerns, such as wife or family.
Professor Linda Woodhead, which specializiruetsya on the sociology of religion, says that in addition to the celibacy of Catholic priests and monks specifically provide housing and a basic allowance that they are fully dedicated to what they are doing without being distracted by domestic and social problems. “People feel that the priest always have the time to pay attention to them, and they will not interfere in his private life, when they come to him with their sorrows. The priest is always available for them and it is a very special thing,” she says.
Some critics consider the idea to allow to serve as married priests in the Amazon, as the first step to a complete rejection of celibacy as a mandatory requirement. They are also suspicious of the assumption that the Synod may “determine the type of formal service which can be entrusted to women”, and fear that this may also be the beginning of ordination for them. Conservative circles in the Vatican generally perceived hostility is very much trying to discuss at the Synod.
However, the Synod, were perceived by many ambiguously. For some, it’s a battle for the soul of the Church, for others it is a tool of the Genesis of it, as the institution develops. “According to the Vatican liberals, the Catholic Church must change, as well as any institution that has existed for so long. According to them, they changed so drastically even since the 20th century, from the end of which less than two decades. Their view is that change needs to occur constantly, but carefully and in dialogue with its tradition.
As to married priests, they already exist. For example, some married Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism after he left his Church in protest against the ordination of women, were allowed to continue work in their administrator. And the Church of the Eastern rite also see married priests as a matter of course the phenomenon of Church life.
However, such a step, even being perfect in one local the Amazon region, but in the space of canonical core of the Roman Curia, and may in fact have serious consequences. And hardly exaggerate those who say that if the ordination of married men will be agreed for the Amazon, it may eventually happen in other regions with a shortage of priests, such as the Pacific Islands. And from this a direct path to more fundamental violation of an ancient Canon.
Of course, while to expect even such miniscule steps prematurely. Most informed observers say that if such a thing happens only as an exception. Moreover, the Synod is only Advisory in nature.
However, the anxiety and resistance within the Roman Catholic Church is justified. After all, who, no matter how its clergy to know just how the exception becomes the rule.