ROME – Although Pope Francis’s highly anticipated document on the Amazon bypasses the hot-button issues of women deacons and married priests, a number of the pope’s close advisors have said the door is not definitively closed on either front.

In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazon), Pope Francis appears to leave the question of married priests open-ended, giving neither a clear yes or no.

Instead, he suggests a better distribution of priests in the Amazon and encourages missionary priests in the region to go to more rural areas, while also stressing the need for a priestly formation which better understands and appreciates local cultural traditions.

Francis also skipped over the issue of women deacons, warning only against the temptation to “clericalize” women rather than empowering them through leading community roles which better “reflects their womanhood.”

In comments to the press Wednesday, Canadian Michael Czerny said the best way of looking at the pope’s approach to married priests in the document, given that the October 2019 synod on the Amazon proposed the ordination of viri probati, or tested married men, is that it is “part of a journey.”

“We are at a very important point in the synodal process. There are long roads ahead, as well as roads already traveled,” he said, and on the question of married priests, Francis “has not resolved them in any way beyond want he has said in the exhortation.”

Czerny stressed that the exhortation “is a magisterial document,” and as such, “participates in his ordinary Magisterium,” meaning it is binding, whereas the final synod document, which includes supportive proposals for married priests and women deacons which the pope must approve, does not bear the same weight.

Without a firm no from the pope on these issues, Czerny said that “if there are questions you feel are open or that the Church feels are open thanks to the exhortation, they will continue to be debated, discussed, discerned, prayed over and, when mature, presented to the appropriate authority for a decision.”

These decisions, he said, can be made at a diocesan, national and universal level.

On the proposal for the ordination of women deacons, Czerny simply said the issue is still “being studied,” likely awaiting a conclusion on the topic from a commission Francis formed in 2016 to study it.

Similarly, in an editorial published alongside the pope’s new exhortation, Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for Vatican News, said the document offers an important message on the Amazon “that supersedes the dialectical diatribes which ended up representing the Synod as a referendum on the possibility of ordaining married men.”

“This topic has been discussed for a long time and may continue to be discussed in the future,” he said, adding that Francis, “has decided to respond not by foreseeing changes or further possibilities of exceptions from those already provided for by current ecclesiastical discipline,” such as those made in Eastern Catholic rites and those welcomed into the Anglican ordinariate established by Benedict XVI, “but by asking that the essentials be the starting point.”

Noting that a number of the pope’s suggestions to the Amazon priest shortage, including sending more missionaries to rural areas, align with those made by Francis’s critics, Czerny echoed a recent statement by German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, a conservative often seen to be at odds with Francis, calling the exhortation a document of “reconciliation.”

“If it wasn’t a document of reconciliation, it wouldn’t be by Pope Francis,” Czerny said, adding that reconciliation, mercy and dialogue are all qualities “at the heart of this papacy and are inevitably the real solutions.”

It was also noted during the briefing that Francis in his exhortation, on the basis of the Second Vatican Council, appeared to open the door to the creation of an “Amazonian rite” of the liturgy which incorporates and embraces indigenous traditions and forms of cultural expression.

“We can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols,” he said in the text, noting that the Council “called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines.”

Asked whether the pope’s words signaled an encouragement to create an Amazonian rite of the Mass, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said that should locals want it, they should follow the typical procedure of going to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments with the request.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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