Pope Francis has reportedly requested a debate on the issue of allowing married men in the Amazon region of Brazil to be ordained as priests.
The request for the debate was made after Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, asked the pope to consider ordaining "viri probati," meaning "married of great faith," as priests.
Monsignor Erwin Krautler, the secretary of the Episcopal Commission, had echoed the cardinal's request and suggested that the Vatican should also consider ordaining female deacons as priests.
He quoted Francis as telling him, "speak to the bishops and tell them to make valid proposals" about such ordinations.
According to Yahoo News, the issue has been placed on the agenda for an upcoming synod in the Amazon region, where there is a shortage of priests, and Roman Catholicism is being displaced by evangelical Christians and pagan sects.
A small number of married men are already serving as priests, including previously married Anglican vicars who have since joined the Roman Catholic church. There are also 23 Eastern churches that are in full communion with Rome whose clergy are allowed to marry.
Earlier this year, Francis had suggested that he would consider ordaining married men as priests. "We must consider if 'viri probati' is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities," he said in an interview with Germany's Die Zeit newspaper.
Francis said at the time that the shortage of priests had become an "enormous problem," and noted that the first response should be prayer along with an intense focus on "working with young people who are seeking orientation."
He maintained that he remains in favor of celibacy for priests, but he noted that the principle is part of the discipline of the Church, rather than dogma, which means that it can be discussed.
Monsignor Giacomo Canobbio, a leading Italian theologian, argued that "the fact of having a wife or children does not limit at all working in a parish." He noted that married men ordained as priests would not have to take a vow of chastity.
"There is no ban. They would have a normal married life," he said, according to The Telegraph. "I believe that Francis could review this, though he would not decide alone but would start a collegial process. The question is urgent," he added.
Other parts of the world are also being affected by the acute shortage of priests. Statistics from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University have shown that the Catholic Church has been increasingly turning to Africa and Asia to find priests to staff its parishes in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world due to difficulties in finding native priests.