There is a ring of finality in the decision of the Papacy against opening up the Roman Catholic priesthood to married men. With celibacy thus institutionalised, the traditionalists will almost certainly welcome the move. Having said that, there is little doubt that the celibacy issue has been dividing the church, while it seeks to address the shortage of clerics. The decision of Pope Francis not to allow married men to become priests is unlikely to be endorsed by those who argue that easing the celibacy rule will help address the dearth of clerics.

The issue has become the latest point of friction between conservatives and reformers within the church. Traditionalists have even binned the proposal as “heretical”. Such divisions had sharpened when Pope Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, publicly declared his opposition to any changes to the 1,000-year-old tradition of celibacy in the Roman Catholic priesthood. Progressives had hoped that Pope Francis would back change, but the Papacy made its views clear ~ “Personally I think that celibacy is a gift to the church. I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy.

No.” Instead, Francis urged bishops to pray for an increase in priestly vocations and suggested more missionaries be sent to remote communities where Catholics can go for long periods without receiving Mass. For all that, there is no indication in the Pope’s robust presentation as to how the shortage in the level of the clergy will be addressed. Indeed, the filling of vacancies is said to have divided the Catholic church, much in the manner of celibacy. The Amazon synod brought together bishops, Indigenous people and activists from nine countries for a three-week meeting at the Vatican.

The synod’s final document called for the ordination of viri probati ~ married men of good standing ~ and for an increased role for women in the church. As it turns out, the orthodox school has had its way. The issue exploded into the open last month with the publication of a book, From the Depths of our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, which included an essay by Benedict.

“I cannot keep silent,” the former Pope (92) said in a vigorous defence of clerical celibacy. The other facet to the issue is the rising shrill to ordain women as deacons. Acknowledging the fact that “for centuries, women have kept the church alive through their remarkable devotion and deep faith’, he asserted that a move to ‘clericalise women’ would not enhance their value.” Much as Pope Francis has effected a deft balance on the gender issue, the time for reformation in the Roman Catholic church is not yet.