A small group of Catholics has accused Pope Francis of heresy and has written to…
What does Pope Francis’ silence on ‘viri probati’ mean in ‘Querida Amazonia’?
There were great expectations that Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, which was released Feb. 12, would address the recommendation of last fall’s synod of bishops to ordain certain married men in South America’s Amazon region. Instead, the pope’s exhortation sidestepped the synod’s proposal to relax the Church’s discipline on priestly celibacy — a recommendation that was understood as a potential solution to a current shortage of priests and scarcity of access to the sacraments.
The release of the exhortation came as the dust was still settling from what many have dubbed “Book-gate” — the Vatican kerfuffle of a few weeks ago surrounding the release of a book on priestly celibacy. The book was written by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, and included a significant contribution from emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
When the book, titled in English “From the Depths of Our Hearts” (Ignatius Press, $19.95), was announced at the end of January, many commentators interpreted its defense of celibacy as being politically charged — since at the time Pope Francis was concurrently deliberating on the recommendation of the participants of last fall’s Amazon synod to allow “proven” married men (viri probati) to be ordained priests in the region (and even admission of women to the diaconate).
Querida Amazonia, however, did not address the proposals of the synod — and, unusually, Pope Francis did not quote from the synod’s final document at all. Instead, within the text of the exhortation, he commended to the universal Church the entirety of the synod’s final document for reading and consideration. What that means exactly in terms of the Church’s magisterium seems to remain up for debate.
Reactions to the exhortation for the most part fell along ideological lines. Some expressed frustration that the pope did not adopt, or at least express support for, the synod’s recommendations. Others expressed relief that no mention of celibacy was included, with many taking it as a sign the pope was not entertaining the proposal. Some likened his decision to stay silent on celibacy to Pope St. Paul VI’s decision not to give into internal ecclesial pressures to relax Church teaching on artificial contraception — though it must be noted that Paul VI made a controversial decision, consistent with Church teaching and tradition, despite great pressure to decide to the contrary. In contrast, Pope Francis opted for silence — silence that neither advocates for relaxing priestly celibacy nor definitively rules it out.
Independently of the document, and prior to its release, Pope Francis repeatedly has indicated that he has no intention of abandoning the discipline of priestly celibacy. Yet at the Vatican’s Feb. 12 press conference, in which the pope’s exhortation formally was presented, Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., one of the high-ranking cardinals who attended the synod, reiterated that, despite the pope’s silence, all synod recommendations remain on the table.
It seems premature, then, to conclude that the idea of priestly celibacy can’t or won’t further be entertained, or even carried out, at some future date. Only time will tell.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s Simply Catholic. He writes from Indiana.