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Pope seeks 'courageous' debate over Amazon priest shortage

Pope Francis has told South American bishops to speak "courageously" at a meeting on the Amazon, where the shortage of priests is so acute that the Vatican is considering ordaining married men and giving women official church ministries.

Francis on Monday opened the work of the three-week synod, or meeting of bishops, called to chart new ways to better minister to indigenous communities and care for the rainforest they call home.

Among the most contentious proposals on the synod agenda is whether married community elders could be ordained priests. Currently indigenous Catholics in remote parts of the Amazon can go months without seeing a priest or receiving the sacraments.

Pope Francis walks in procession on the occasion of the Amazon synod at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (Claudio PeriANSA via AP)

Another proposal calls for bishops to identify new "official ministries" for women, though priestly ordination for them is off the table.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes speaks at the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis has told South American bishops to speak "courageously" at a meeting on the Amazon, where the shortage of priests is so acute the Vatican is considering ordaining married men and giving women official church ministries. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, 2nd right, speaks the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis has told South American bishops to speak "courageously" at a meeting on the Amazon, where the shortage of priests is so acute the Vatican is considering ordaining married men and giving women official church ministries. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis speaks during the opening session of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis walks in procession on the occasion of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Participants attend the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Participants attend the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis speaks during the opening session of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis speaks during the opening session of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis walks in procession on the occasion of the opening of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis walks in procession on the occasion of the opening of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis speaks during the opening session of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis presides over the opening session of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis speaks during the opening session of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Pope Francis speaks during the opening session of the Amazon synod, at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Pope Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)