From the moment the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon was announced, it’s been clear that the issue of the viri probati, meaning tested married men who are pillars of their communities, would come up. Requests for consideration of the possibility have been voiced with increasing urgency by bishops and other Catholic personnel from the region for decades, and it was basically unthinkable a whole synod would go by without it being floated again.

Crux spoke to a Brazilian theologian in February who said then that the viri probati would be discussed when the bishops meet.

Nonetheless, given all the lengths to which Rome has gone over the years to squash consideration of married priests, seeing the topic on an official Vatican agenda is still a bit arresting.

To understand the nature of the discussion we’re likely to see in October, here are three essential things to understand.

First, the debate is not over whether the Catholic Church can have married priests. It already does, and plenty of them. The 23 Eastern churches in communion with Rome have married priests, and in the United States, there are hundreds of former Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans and others who were married in their original denominations and permitted to remain married as Catholic priests.

The question, therefore, is not whether to have married priests, but whether to have more of them. As a corollary, no one is talking about eliminating celibacy for the vast majority of priests in the Latin Rite.

Second, this discussion will be very different from debate over married priests in the U.S. or Western Europe, because it’s basically not ideological.

In the West, more liberal Catholics sometimes press for a married clergy on grounds that celibacy is unnatural and breeds sexual dysfunction, often linking it to the clerical sexual abuse crisis. Such activists also sometimes make the argument that by creating a special caste of unmarried men, celibacy contributes to clericalism, elitism, a detachment from the struggles of ordinary families, and all manners of other ills.

Whatever one makes of the merits of those arguments, they’re not what drives discussion of the viri probati in the Amazon, or for that matter in most other parts of the world….

– from June 18 story in Crux