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Will Pope Francis allow priest in the Amazon to marry? Some say it's a slippery slope

Will pope allow priest in the Amazon to marry?
Will Pope Francis allow priest in the Amazon to marry? 03:37

Nearly 70 percent of Catholic Americans are in favor of letting priests marry, according to a CBS News poll conducted last year. The poll found that 25 percent were still opposed, but in one remote region of the Amazon, married priests could soon become a reality. 

Pope Francis has been meeting with Catholics from remote regions of the Amazon during a nearly month-long meeting called a synod, and church leaders were set to vote Saturday on a document that could pave the way for priests in the Amazon to be married.

It is just one topic the Catholic Church has been trying to tackle during the synod, including deforestation and climate change, but this possible opening for married priests is the one getting the most attention.

As CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reported on Friday, indigenous people and bishops from the Amazon have traveled to Rome, lending an exotic twist to the Vatican, but also raising some serious issues for the church.

"Pope Francis is concerned about the poor and the marginalized, and these are the poor and the marginalized," Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with Religion News Service, told Doane. 

In the Amazon in particular, one of the major crises for the Catholic Church is a shortage of priests.

"There simply are not enough men coming forward who are willing to be celibate priests," Reese said. "So, the question the bishops have to answer is: which is more important to the Catholic Church? Having the eucharist and the sacraments in these places or having celibate clergy?"

The lack of clergy means some Catholics in remote areas may only have communion once a year. 

The discussion has been about allowing so-called "proven men," who are already married, to be ordained. 

Pope Francis is taking part in the daily meetings at the Vatican. 

Mauricio Lopez, with the Amazonian church group, REPAM, is also there, and he told Doane the shortage of priests in his region was "like having, probably, two priests for the whole state of Oregon... and no accessibility by roads, but by rivers, sometimes. Or not having the possibility to get there but by private airplane, which you cannot afford."

It's those details that Lopez and his fellow Amazonian Catholics have been trying to make clear to Pope Francis.

"This is no parliament; we are not taking votes to decide," Lopez said. "We are helping him to understand what's happening – to get the inputs that he needs, and he'll be the one ultimately making the decision." 

Reese, of the religious news service, believes married priests are coming to the Catholic Church; "I think there's a good chance we're going to have it. This pope recognizes that celibacy is just a rule – and he likes to break rules when he has to!"

Reese reminded Doane that about 1,000 years ago, Catholic priests could be married. St. Peter, the first pope, was married, and some Catholic branches allow it today. 

Some bishops have voiced concerns, however, that it could be a slippery slope.

"To some extent, I agree with them," Reese said. "I mean, once you allow married clergy in the Amazon, can you say 'no' to parts of Asia or Africa – or even the United States?" 

Doane said it is just a recommendation that will be voted on Saturday. Ultimately, it is up to the pope alone, and he can choose to discuss the issue with other bishops – and can take however long he wants. 

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