In a much-anticipated document released Wednesday, Pope Francis did not accept a proposal to allow the ordination of married men as priests or women as deacons in the Amazon in order to combat the serious clergy shortages in the region.
The proposal had been put forward by the majority of bishops attending a synod on the Amazon at the Vatican last year.
Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation on the "Beloved Amazon," made public Wednesday, made no change to the Roman Catholic Church's centuries-old rule on celibacy. The majority of bishops from the Amazon region had voted at the end of their synod in the Vatican three months ago to allow some married men to be ordained and for women to serve as deacons. But in his document, the pope ignored that proposal.
Some groups that advocate for women's ordination and giving them a greater role in the church criticized the pope's decision. The Britain-based Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research said in a statement that the pope's refusal to consider the ordination of women rejects the explicit recommendation of the synod on the Amazon.
"Beloved Amazon" was more of a love letter by the Latin American prelate to the Amazonian rain forest and the indigenous people who populate it, according to Cardinal Michael Czerny, the synod secretary.
The cardinal said the pope's love for the region lay at the heart of the pope's apostolic exhortation. Pope Francis, he added, has "four great dreams" for this region: social, ecological, cultural and pastoral.
The pope says the Amazon region is one that "fights for the rights of the poor," that "preserves its distinctive cultural riches," that "jealously preserves its overwhelming natural beauty" and where Christian communities may be "capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region."
Francis urged Catholics to "feel outrage" over the exploitation of indigenous people. He also spoke about the "injustice and crime" committed against the people of the Amazon and their land, devastated by illegal mining and extraction industries.
In the Roman Catholic Church, only priests can say mass. Due to the acute shortage in the region, the faithful in at least 85% of villages cannot attend regular services and have not for years.
The pope said, "Every effort should be made" to give the faithful access to the Eucharist.
"This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America ... to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region," he wrote.
Pope Francis called on bishops to promote "prayer for priestly vocations." He also said there was a need for priests who understand Amazon sensibilities.