Pope Francis has rejected a proposal to allow married men become priests in remote areas of the Amazon.

The pope’s decision was made known in a letter released by the Vatican on Wednesday, according to the New York Times.

An approval would have reversed the age-long practice that Roman Catholic priests must be celibate.

Catholic bishops from across the Amazon had in October called for the ordination of married men as priests to address a scarcity of clergy in the nine South American countries in the region.

They had argued that the Catholic faithful in the region have “enormous difficulties” in receiving communion and seeing a priest, and called for ordination of some married men as priests.

They had specifically recommended the ordination of “suitable and esteemed men of the community”, who had already had fruitful experiences as deacons and who “receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legitimately constituted and stable family”.

But the pope was quoted to have turned down the recommendation, saying that “a specific and courageous response is required of the Church.”

He argued that access to the sacraments need to be increased in “the remotest” places, but that a priest alone can celebrate communion or absolve sins.

He said: “It is not simply a question of facilitating a greater presence of ordained ministers who can celebrate the Eucharist.”

The pope dismissed the goal for such recommendation as a “very narrow aim.”

The pope’s decision comes as a surprise to many considering his nod to the historic debate on whether to allow married men become priests.

He also raised the prospect of lifting the celibacy rule in 2017 when he told Die Zeit, a German weekly, that “we must consider if viri probati (married clergy) is a possibility.”

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