INTERNATIONAL and local newspapers reported the permission given by Pope Francis to discuss ordaining married men to the priesthood during the 2019 Synod on the Amazon. This is in response to the shortage of priests in Brazil’s Amazon basin, where reportedly one priest is in charge of 10,000 people.
But there is more to this problem than just statistics. That things in the Catholic Church have come to this problem is a reflection of the collapse of faith in many countries.
Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world, about 140 million members. Serving this massive number are a measly 18,000 priests. That is an average of 7,000 faithful for every one priest.
Clearly, vocations to the priesthood have been dwindling there and about 1 in 5 Brazilian Catholics leave the faith. The bishops there should diligently examine their administration and ministry to the faithful because the shortage of priests can be traced to their inaction.
Though not a divine law, priestly celibacy as a vow and a discipline has been massively fruitful for the Catholic Church. The great saints who were Pastors come to mind. It is also well-supported by Sacred Scripture because Jesus has said in his discourse about marriage in Matthew 19, “and others have given up marriage because of God’s kingdom.” St. Paul also says, “the unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:32)
The vow of celibacy helps our priests to minister to God and His people with an undivided heart. The deep meaning of priestly celibacy is apparent because Jesus Christ himself was not married. It is also a reflection of the afterlife, where there would be no more marriage.
Priestly celibacy is a discipline in the Latin Rite Church. In the Eastern Catholic rites, married men can become priests, though their bishops are always celibate. Another example of the exception to celibacy are former Anglican priests who were married, that entered the Church and became Catholic priests. These are certain exceptions, but in the Latin Rite, to which the Philippines and Brazil belong to, celibacy is to be followed.
A greater reinforcement among priests of their dignity and responsibility is the solution for their shortage. We should do away with the erroneous and modernist ideas of priests being activists and social workers. Yes social action is good but their primary task is the care of souls. Steps must be taken to encourage more vocations among the young people, because very few are discerning God’s call amidst the temptations of the world. --Gerard Biagan