VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has rejected a proposal made by bishops at a landmark meeting in October to allow the ordination of married men in remote areas, a potentially momentous change that conservatives had warned would set the Roman Catholic Church on a slippery slope toward the lifting of priestly celibacy and the thrashing of church traditions.
Francis’ decision, in a papal letter with the power of church teaching that was made public by the Vatican on Wednesday, surprised many given his openness to considering questions of priestly celibacy in “far-flung places” and his oft-expressed desire for a more collegial and less bureaucratic church.
The pope’s supporters had hoped for revolutionary change. Seven years into his papacy, it raised the question of whether Francis’ promotion of discussing once-taboo issues is resulting in a pontificate that is largely talk.
His closest advisers in the hierarchy have already acknowledged that the pope’s impact on the global stage, especially on his core issues such as immigration and the environment, has waned. His legacy, they have said, would ultimately reside inside the church where his authority is absolute.
The pope’s refusal to allow married priests was likely to delight conservatives, many of whom have come to see Francis and his emphasis on a more pastoral and inclusive church as a grave threat to the rules, orthodoxy and traditions of the faith.