Vatican 'open to debate' on official Church ministries for women and married men
Women and married men may be considered for official ministries within the Catholic Church.
The Vatican said it wouldn't rule out debate on whether married men could step in to fill roles where the Catholic Church's presence was "precariously thin".
The comments were made in a preparatory document seeking input from South American bishops for the Vatican's 2019 meeting on the Amazon.
Organisers also said the Church must identify new "official ministries" for women to play in the region.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said at a press conference to discuss the document that the Church was not making an "official declaration" about the role of married men and women serving in ministries, but he suggested there was room for debate.
"Here we speak of ministry - there are lots of various forms of ministry," he said. "Let's leave freedom to the discussion. We are not trying to preclude anything."
While there wasn't a suggestion that women could be ordained as priests, there is potential they could celebrate baptisms among other ministries. Pope Francis has previously reaffirmed that the Catholic doctrine forbids women becoming ordained priests.
Francis has appointed a commission of experts to study the role of women deacons in the early Church.
But the document calls for "new ways" to increase access to the Eucharist in a part of the world where the Church counts around one priest for every 10,000 Catholics and where remote communities can go weeks or months at a time before a priest arrives to celebrate Mass.
The call for "courageous, daring and fearless" proposals suggests that the Vatican wants the region's bishops to put forward concrete proposals on whether married men of proven virtue - so-called "viri probati" - could celebrate Mass in places where priests are in short supply.
Women currently do much of the heavy lifting in the Catholic Church in the Amazon region.