Pope Francis will not make an exception on Wednesday to Roman Catholic priestly celibacy rules in the Amazon, US bishops said after meeting the pontiff, dismissing speculation on the controversial subject.
Bishops from the Amazon asked after last year's synod meeting for the pope to allow married men to become priests and to allow female deacons in the sparsely-populated region so that more indigenous people could take communion.
In spite of strong opposition, including from former pope Benedict XVI, some observers had predicted a loosening of the rules when Francis' synod conclusions are published on Wednesday.
But two bishops told the US Catholic News Service after meeting the pope on Monday for lengthy talks that the pope would not be making the concession.
"He didn't say much about the two pressing issues, about the ordination of women deacons and married priests," said Salt Lake City bishop Oscar Solis.
"I think he left it a bit open with no specific decision about it. So it's open for discussion," said Solis.
"He said he didn't actually believe in the ordination of married men, but what are you going to do with all those people who are deprived of the Eucharist?" During the talks, the Argentine pope said some media preferred focussing on controversy but that he wanted to focus on the Amazon's social, ecological, cultural and pastoral challenges, the Catholic News Service said.
"The pope, very gently and very calmly, said, 'You know, this point was really not a big point in that synod,'" said Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, without specifying if he was referring to married priests or women deacons.
"I don't even think at this point that it's something we're going to move on because I haven't sensed that the Holy Spirit is at work in that right now," the pope reportedly said.
In a book written by Francis about Pope John Paul II published on Tuesday, the pope wrote "I'm convinced that celibacy is a gift". "I feel strongly the duty to think of celibacy as a decisive grace... I repeat: it is a grace, not a limit," Francis wrote.
In January 2019, Francis said he did not believe that optional celibacy should be allowed, while conceding "some possibilities for far flung places", such as Pacific islands or the Amazon.
Last month former pope Benedict, who retired in 2013, issued a defence of clerical celibacy in a book written with arch-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah.
"The conjugal state concerns man in his totality, and since the service of the Lord also requires the total gift of man, it does not seem possible to realise the two vocations simultaneously," wrote Benedict.
Priestly celibacy is not part of Roman Catholic Church doctrine but a disciplinary tradition which became obligatory in the 11th century.
Married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism are allowed to keep their wives.
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