CATHOLIC priests may soon be allowed to get married and have children as the Vatican is considering fresh proposals to ease its rules on celibacy for clergymen to address the serious shortage of clergy in remote parts of the world.
Historically, Catholicism has barred its priests and nuns from getting married, as they are supposed to remain celibate throughout their lives. In Africa in particular, however, this has created a problem as there is a cultural stigma attached to not getting married and as a result, the church has struggled to recruits priests.
Later today, Pope Francis will decide on whether to make a limited exception to the celibacy rule for priests. In October, a summit of bishops known as a synod, proposed allowing married men into the priesthood, only in the Amazon area, to address the serious shortage of clergy in remote parts of the rainforest region.
This afternoon, the pope is due to respond to the synod with an Apostolic Exhortation. According to the Vatican, a document, called Querida Amazonia or Dear Amazon, will be published this afternoon.
If the pope decides to allow married priests, this could exacerbate tensions with his conservative critics, who see his papacy as excessively liberal. Traditionalists fear that any opening could eventually lead to the complete abolition of the celibacy rule for priests, which is not part of church dogma but has been in place since the Middle Ages.
On the other hand, if Pope Francis confirms the status quo, he would estrange progressives, such as the German Catholic Church, which is among those most supportive of change. Pope Francis’ document is also expected to address other issues discussed by the regional synod, including social justice, climate change, minority rights and the role of women in the church.
A previous bone of contention between traditionalists and the pope was his decision in 2016 to soften a ban on Holy Communion for remarried divorcees, as proposed by a previous synod. Of late, there has been a growing debate within the Catholic Church about the need to modernise its ways and abandon its traditional dogma.