(MENAFN - AFP) An upcoming Vatican global synod dedicated to the Amazon is set to discuss allowing married men in remote areas to be ordained as priests, according to a preview of the meeting made public on Monday.
The much-anticipated discussion, which will form part of the October 6 to 27 synod, is aimed at boosting the stock of potential clergy in far-flung areas where they are currently scarce.
"It is requested that the possibility be studied of priestly ordination of elders in the most remote areas, preferably indigenous people, respected and accepted by their community, even if they already have a stable and established family," according to the working paper.
Pope Francis has repeatedly said there is no doctrinal prohibition on married men who have reached a certain age from becoming priests, and therefore the discipline could be changed.
But in January this year he seemed to retreat from the idea, describing celibacy as "a gift to the Church".
"I don't think optional celibacy should be allowed. No," he said.
The pope nevertheless conceded "some possibilities for far flung places", such as Pacific islands or the Amazon where "there is a pastoral necessity", though he added that the decision was not his to make.
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Celibacy was imposed in the 11th century, possibly partly to prevent descendants of priests inheriting church property.
Some within the church believe it is time to join many eastern rite Catholic Churches in permitting married men to take the cloth. Married Anglican priests keen to convert to Catholicism have already been welcomed over.
The Vatican's number two, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, suggested in an interview last year that the church could "gradually look in depth" at the issue, while ruling out any "drastic change".
Some 60,000 priests have given up their vocation over the past few decades, often to marry.
Pope Francis suggested in 2017 that the church "reflect" on the question of ordaining "viri probati", married men of proven virtue, particularly in far-flung places where priests are thin on the ground.
The synod discussion paper also raises the prospect of a more inclusive role for women in the Amazon, adding their presence "is not always adequately taken into consideration".
It suggested women could have a greater educational participation.
The synod will also consider the environmental challenges facing the Amazon, a vast area of rainforest mainly in Brazil but also touching eight other countries.
Last month, Brazil's legendary indigenous chief Raoni met the pope to highlight increasingly acute threats to the Amazon.
The elderly Kayapo chief, internationally recognisable through his traditional lip plate and feather headdress, is seeking to raise one million euros ($1.1 million) to better protect the Amazon's Xingu reserve -- home to many of Brazil's tribal peoples -- from loggers, farmers and fire.