VATICAN CITY -- A top Brazilian church official at the worldwide synod of bishops has disclosed that two married men in his country became priests with papal approval.
Church officials said this week they knew of no other such cases, although the Vatican has approved married priests who converted to Roman Catholicism from other Christian denominations.
The disclosure by Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider appeared to be an attempt to keep the question of married priests alive after Vatican officials sought to keep it out of the synod discussions.
Roman Catholic Church rules require priests to be celibate and forsake marriage. Protestant and some Eastern-rite Catholic churches allow married priests.
The celibacy requirement has been blamed in part for the decline in the number of priests around the world.
Lorscheider, archbishop of Fortaleza, Brazil, made the disclosure in an interview published in this week's issue of the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family).
The interview came out during the third week of the monthlong assembly called by Pope John Paul II to discuss the formation of priests.
At least three bishops at the synod have called for changes in the celibacy rule, but Vatican officials said it was not up for debate.
Lorscheider said the pope had approved the ordination of two married Brazilians described by the church as "viri probati," a Latin term referring to men who have proven themselves to be spiritually mature.
The cardinal said the two were ordained on condition they live with their wives as "brother and sister," meaning they must abstain from sex. He said this stipulation had provoked criticism, although he did not say from whom.
Lorscheider did not identify the priests or say when or where in Brazil the ordinations occurred.
A Vatican spokesman, Monsignor Piero Pennacchini, identified one of the priests as Ivo Schmidt, who had been serving as permanent deacon of the diocese of Federico Westphalen, a city of 500,000 people in southern Brazil.
The spokesman said he was still checking on the second married priest. Italian newspapers reported he apparently lives in the state of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil and said both ordinations may have occurred at least four years ago.
Pennacchini and other Vatican and church officials said they could not immediately recall any other cases of married Roman Catholics becoming priests.
They noted, however, that exceptions have been made for priests from other denominations who convert to Roman Catholicism. Dozens of married Episcopalians have done so in the United States, for example. They are allowed to continue living normal married lives.
Lorscheider, one of more than 200 bishops attending the synod, said allowing ordination of married men could help alleviate the shortage of priests in some areas.
"There are Christian communities, not only in the Third World, which desire the Eucharist and can't receive it," he said. "We need to seriously study the issue."
The celibacy rule is based on the view that sex and marriage would keep the priest from giving his complete attention to the work of God.
Many bishops, including those from the United States, have spoken out in favor of the requirement, while stressing that the church needs to highlight the positive values of celibacy for priestly candidates.