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Vatican mulls allowing married priests in remote areas of the Amazon

A new Vatican document suggests that the church consider ordaining married men with families as priests in "the most remote areas" of the Amazon in South America, according to an article posted to the Vatican press site Monday. The proposal appears to be part of the church's effort to expand the ranks of clergy in a region where there aren't enough priests — "pastoral gaps that need to be filled," as the release puts it.

The recommendation is included in the "Instrumentum Laboris" — or Working Document — for the upcoming synod of bishops from the Pan-Amazonian region scheduled for October. A synod is a general term for a gathering related to the church, under hierarchical authority, "for the purpose of discussion and decision of matters relating to faith, morals, or discipline," according to the Catholic site "New Advent." The theme of the upcoming synod is "Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology."

The Vatican's news release notes the multitude of local cultures and vast distances in the Amazon region create a "serious pastoral problem" that  can't be solved by "mechanical and technological means alone." The Amazon region includes territory of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana, and the rain forest there is the largest in the world. 

The Vatican writes, "It is necessary to move from a 'Church that visits' to a 'Church that remains'" and is present through local ministers. While it proposes the possibility of men with families becoming ordained as priests in remote areas where clergy members are scarce, a "clause" specifies the men must "preferably" be indigenous elders who are "respected" and "accepted" by their community, according to the Vatican press release summarizing the document.

"They are indigenous people who preach to indigenous people with a profound knowledge of their culture and language, capable of communicating the message of the Gospel with the strength and effectiveness of those who have their own cultural background," the Vatican said.

The church also says it's looking at the role women might play in the region. While the document says "the kind of official ministry" for women is "still to be identified," it says there is "a proposal to guarantee them their leadership." 

The Amazon proposal is the most direct mention ever in a Vatican document of the chance of a married priesthood, while restricted, and a greater ministerial role for women in one region, according to Reuters analysis.

The Vatican's new document also takes a stand on the environmental issues in the region, with the release stating that life in the Amazon is threatened by "environmental destruction and exploitation," and elaborating on the issues of pollution and deforestation in the area.

The October synod will include bishops and other representatives, including indigenous peoples from the nine Amazon nations. Participants are scheduled to vote on articles in a final document as the conference concludes. Then, the pope will review the document and decide whether to make it an official Apostolic Exhortation based on the synod meetings, Reuters reports.