Cardinal Hummes Pushes for Married Priests, and Lula Meets the Pope

The Brazilian cardinal, a long-time proponent of ordaining married priests, told a Brazilian publication ‘this matter will have to be developed and completed’ through discussions with Pope Francis and Vatican officials.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes
Cardinal Claudio Hummes (photo: Photo by Edward Pentin)

VATICAN CITY — One of the leading figures behind last year’s Pan-Amazon Synod, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, has said the synod’s proposal to ordain married men in remote Amazonian areas is not dead but will now be taken up by the Vatican.

After Pope Francis decided not to endorse the change in Querida Amazonia, his apostolic exhortation on the October meeting, the Brazilian publication Estadão reported Feb. 12 that Cardinal Hummes told Brazilian media that “the question must now be worked out with the Pope and the offices of the Holy See.”

“It will be taken up again,” the cardinal insisted. “This matter will have to be developed and completed.”

The Pope did not make any mention of priestly celibacy, married priests, or the ordination of so-called viri probati in Querida Amazonia, but instead stressed the importance of itinerant missionary work and that permanent deacons, religious women and laity should “regularly assume important responsibilities.”

Cardinal Hummes, who served as the general relator (essentially the chief coordinator) of the Oct. 6-27 synod, has at least since 2006 advocated the ordination of married men. Just before taking up his position that year as prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, he said in an interview clerical celibacy was not a dogma and could be subject to review. 

Within a few hours after arriving at the Vatican two days later, Pope Benedict XVI had him issue a statement saying priestly celibacy was not up for discussion.

Having hoped the Amazon Synod could be a vehicle through which to accomplish such a change in the centuries-old discipline of the Latin Church, but with the Pope not endorsing it in his exhortation, Cardinal Hummes now believes that the October meeting still will play an important role in Vatican discussions in achieving the change, according to the Estadão report.

In particular, he told the publication that the Synod’s final document, in which the majority of synod fathers voted in favor of ordaining married deacons as priests, “would not be put on a shelf” and that the Church “must be committed to its application.” 

Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of the Diocese of Belo Horizonte, president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, also told Estadão that now the post-synodal exhortation has been published, “it doesn’t mean that the final document of the Synod can be incinerated.” And he speculated that a decree regarding the ordination of married men, which would not be appropriate in an exhortation, “may be forthcoming.”

Bishop Oliveira de Azevedo also maintains that the Pope has commissioned a study to update questions regarding the priesthood.

A similar response to the exhortation also came from Pope Francis’ frequently utilized “ghost writer” for papal documents, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández of La Plata, Argentina.

He told the online publication Religiondigital Feb. 12 that the Pope’s apostolic exhortation “does not constitute an interpretation” of the synod’s final document, nor does it act as a “restriction” of the final document's contents. Instead, he said the apostolic exhortation is “only a complementary outline” of the final document that “does not rescind it.”

He stressed the importance of Paragraph 4 of the exhortation, in which the Pope asks that all bishops and pastoral agents of the Amazon “strive to apply” the final document.   

At the Vatican press launch yesterday, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, made it clear that although Francis “officially presented” the synod’s final document, he had not given it his “express approval” and so it was not part of the papal magisterium. He also said any application of the final document needs to be “done in light of the exhortation itself.”


Lula Meets the Pope

Meanwhile, the Pope today received at his Santa Marta residence former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva, more commonly known simply as “Lula,” a socialist politician who founded the country’s Workers’ Party and served as president from 2003 to 2010.  

In 2018, and after a series of failed court appeals, Lula was jailed for 12 years for money laundering and passive corruption. He was released last November, amid ongoing claims that he was arrested due to lack of evidence, and on grounds that all appeals had not been exhausted.

Lula is a close friend of Cardinal Hummes. The cardinal has a long history of being closely tied to Brazilian leftist politics, and is often credited for helping propel Lula to the presidency.

But this afternoon’s meeting, which lasted an hour and was not publicized by the Vatican or announced in its daily bulletin as it was an “informal meeting,” was not arranged through Cardinal Hummes but via Francis’ friend, Argentina’s socialist President Alberto Ángel Fernández, who met the Pope at the Vatican on Jan. 31.

In a Feb. 5 tweet announcing his Vatican visit, Lula said he would be meeting the Pope “to thank him not only for the solidarity he showed me at a difficult time, but above all for his dedication to the oppressed.” He said he also wanted to “discuss the Brazilian experience of combating poverty.”