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Ordaining older married men should be discussed

VATICAN CITY (CNS): The idea of exceptionally ordaining older married men of proven virtue to celebrate the Eucharist in isolated Catholic communities is something that should be discussed, said Beniamino Cardinal Stella, the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.
 
“It is not about being in favour of or against something, but about attentively evaluating various possibilities without being closed or rigid,” the cardinal said in a new book by Italian journalist, Fabio Marchese Ragona, Tutti gli Uomini di Francesco (All Francis’ Men), released on January 22 by Edizioni San Paolo.
 
The book includes interviews with priests named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis.
 
Pope Francis was asked by the German newspaper Die Zeit last year about whether, in the Latin rite Church, he could see allowing married viri probati—men of proven virtue—to become priests.
 
The pope responded, “We have to study whether viri probati are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example.” 
 
The issue is expected to come up in special gathering of the Synod of Bishops scheduled for 2019 to study questions related to the Church’s pastoral work in the Amazon. 
 
Already at synods on the priesthood in 1990, and on the Eucharist in 2005, some bishops—especially from Brazil’s Amazon region—suggested that ordaining married men was the only way to ensure Catholics in isolated villages can receive the Eucharist regularly.
 
Cardinal Stella said that in the Amazon or in some remote Pacific islands, “but not only, there is acute suffering because of a real ‘sacramental emergency,’ which the few priests present are not able to accommodate.”
 
He said the discussion Pope Francis wants the Church to have is one that seriously considers all the options for responding to people’s real hunger for the Eucharist and honouring its central place in the life of the Church.
 
While the Catholic Church throughout the world, especially in the more secularised west, must improve its vocations work, it also should study the possibilities and see if “the Spirit suggests something,” Cardinal Stella said.
 
One possibility to explore is the exceptional ordination of older married men in remote communities, he said, adding, “Continuing to maintain their family and jobs and receiving a formation contextualised for their environment, they could offer part-time service to the community they come from in order to guarantee the sacraments, especially by presiding at the Eucharistic celebration.”
 
However, the cardinal said that an “attentive study and a widespread ecclesial discernment” are necessary before moving in that direction.
 
He added that the ordination of elders in those cases would never mean changing the usual requirements for and ministry of priests in the Latin rite and “in no way would lead to optional celibacy.”

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