Pontiff says Church shouldn’t clericalise women
Pope Francis has warned against ‘clericalising’ women in the Church and apparently ignored a request from bishops in the Amazon region to consider ordaining married men to alleviate the vocations crisis.
It had been widely anticipated by some commentators that the Pontiff’s new document Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazonia) would address a request that the ordination of married men be considered so that remote regions currently without a priest could have more access to the Eucharist. He says ways must be found for women to participate more in the life of the Church “that do not entail Holy Orders”.
Pope Francis also made no mention of the idea of ordaining married men to the priesthood. Instead, he said “every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian people do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness”.
“A specific and courageous response is required of the Church” to meet the needs of Catholics, he said, without saying what that response would be.
He also said that the Church needs more prayer for vocations. “This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” he writes.
Following October’s Synod of Bishops where the ordination of married men was discussed along with the possibility of female deacons, the bishops asked for criteria to be drawn up “to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the word and the celebration of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region”.
The absence of a response will please Catholics who felt the move would undermine the charism of priestly celibacy, but annoy other Catholics who felt it would be the opening of a discussion about making celibacy optional across the universal Church.
In the document, the Pope also says that one of the characteristics of many Catholic communities in the Amazon is that, in the absence of priests, they are led and sustained by “strong and generous women, who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptised, catechised, prayed and acted as missionaries.”
While the idea of ordaining women deacons was mentioned at the synod, it was not included in the bishops’ final document.
In his exhortation, Pope Francis said the idea that women’s status and participation in the Church could come only with ordination “would lead us to clericalise women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective.”
Instead, he called for including women in roles “that do not entail Holy Orders,” but that are stably established, publicly recognised and include “a commission from the bishop” and a voice in decision-making.
Pope Francis said he dreams of an Amazon region where the rights of the poor and indigenous are respected, local cultures are preserved, nature is protected, and the Church is present and active with “Amazonian features”.
“The Amazon region has been presented as an enormous empty space to be filled, a source of raw materials to be developed (and) a wild expanse to be domesticated,” the Pope writes. “None of this recognises the rights of the original peoples; it simply ignores them as if they did not exist or acts as if the lands on which they live do not belong to them.”
The destruction of the forest, the polluting of the Amazon River and its tributaries and the disruption and contamination of the land by mining industries, he said, further impoverish the region’s poor, increase the chances that they will become victims of trafficking and destroy their communities and cultures, which are based on a close and care-filled relationship with nature.
“The inescapable truth is that, as things stand, this way of treating the Amazon territory spells the end for so much life, for so much beauty, even though people would like to keep thinking that nothing is happening,” Pope Francis writes.
Yet, he said, “from the original peoples, we can learn to contemplate the Amazon region and not simply analyse it, and thus appreciate this precious mystery that transcends us. We can love it, not simply use it, with the result that love can awaken a deep and sincere interest. Even more, we can feel intimately a part of it and not only defend it.”
The Pope devotes several long passages to the theme of ‘inculturation,’ the process by which the faith becomes ‘incarnate’ in a local culture, taking on local characteristics that are in harmony with the faith and giving the local culture values and traits that come from the universal church.
“There is a risk,” he said, “that evangelisers who come to a particular area may think that they must not only communicate the Gospel but also the culture in which they grew up.”
Instead, he said, “what is needed is courageous openness to the novelty of the Spirit, who is always able to create something new with the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ.”
Additional reporting from Catholic News Service.