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Photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Francis on Sunday formally opened a 3-week Vatican meeting of bishops that will debate whether the Catholic Church should allow married men in South America's Amazon region to be ordained, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: A change to the Church's 1,000-year-old requirement of celibacy for priests could help fill a shortage of priests in the Amazon. Critics say it would "undermine the distinctive character of the priesthood," per WSJ.

By the numbers: There are 7,200 Catholics per priest in South America — almost 4 times the ratio as in North America, according to Vatican statistics.

  • In parts of the Amazon, the ratio is as high as 8,000+ Catholics for every 1 priest. The global ratio has risen sharply in recent decades, from 1,900 to 1 in 1980 to about 3,200 to 1 today.
  • Some remote parishes go months without a visit from a priest.

Context: In June, Pope Francis asked the Church to consider ordaining married elders who are respected by their communities to serve as priests in remote parts of South America.

  • A 3-week Vatican meeting of bishops will consider environmental and religious issues in the Amazon region in general, but priestly celibacy is one of the more contentious items up for debate.

What they're saying: In his homily on Sunday, the pope did not reference the celibacy debate directly, but asked the church to consider innovation: "If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo."

  • American Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan asked Catholics to hold prayer vigils and fast for 40 days throughout the meeting in protest of the debate.

Go deeper: Pope Francis meets with Jesuit criticized for LGBTQ outreach

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

, Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

51 mins ago - World

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.