Roman Catholic bishops issued a recommendation to Pope Francis Saturday that the church allow married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon region of South American. Prompted by a three-week long summit at the Vatican for church leaders from the region, the proposal is the first time a group of bishops convened by the Pope has suggested upending the thousand-year-old celibacy requirement for priesthood. The proposed change is aimed at addressing a shortage of priests in most remote areas of the Amazon and would allow married deacons to be ordained to boost the clergy’s numbers. It does not appear to allow current priests to marry however. Bishops from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname, among others took part, voting 128-41 in favor of the historic change.
The proposal still requires papal approval, but Pope Francis indicated he may be open to change on the issue that NPR notes “would represent a fundamental shift in what it has meant to be a Roman Catholic priest for nearly a millennium.” A response from the pope is expected by the end of the year and, if accepted, the Amazon region could be a trial run for whether to expand the practice. “Liberal supporters said the change would address the unmet needs of a far-flung community and they expressed hope it would lead to similar changes elsewhere,” the New York Times notes. “Conservative opponents called it a threat to the tradition of the priesthood, another troubling sign Francis was willing to dilute the faith to pursue a more inclusive, but less pure, church.”