Paganism in the Vatican: the spirit of the Amazon Synod

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Photo by Colin Lancaster

The recent Amazon Synod, held at the Vatican from Oct. 6 to 27, has captured the world’s attention and become a source of extreme ideological division for Catholics everywhere, in all areas of life. From The New York Times to the National Catholic Register, from bishops to fathers of families, voices are raised in an overwhelming cacophony of celebration, confusion and dismay.

Liberals and conservatives, the religious and  secular alike, are taking extreme interest in this event, arguing over its meaning and implications. 

How exactly did this Synod become a topic of universal concern and conflict?

The preparatory document drafted by the bishops for the Synod and entitled, “Amazonia: New Pathways for the Church and on Integral Ecology,” summarizes the real purpose of the Synod and provides insight into the controversies arising therein. 

Although the Synod was presumably convened in order to further the missionary work in the remote regions of the Amazon, the preparatory document and the Synod meetings do not mention concrete facts regarding the needs of missions and schools in the region. 

The means of furthering catechesis and the possibility of moving more priests in is not mentioned. There is, strangely, no mention of the work of evangelization in the true sense of the word, and the priesthood is only mentioned in three places throughout the rather lengthy document.

Instead, the document lays the groundwork for a discussion on Amazonian ecology and sociology. 

As I read the document, it dawned on me that the Synod was not called to help the Amazon become more Catholic, but to bring elements of paganism into the Church. 

Pope Francis brought pagan idols into the Vatican on the opening day of the Synod, setting the precedent for the rest of the Synod. This event justly shocked many Catholics, as it was idolatrous. However, it is clear that this pagan ritual was the logical conclusion and manifestation of the Synod’s preparatory document.

The Synod was centered on purely earthly concerns, which is why the pope brought statues representing Mother Earth into the Vatican.

The preparatory document for the Synod first examines the Amazonian territory, socio-cultural diversity and the “intensification of indiscriminate logging in the rainforests… the contamination of rivers, lakes, and tributaries…toxins…oil spills…[and] drugs.”

The document defines the Amazonians as “people of the waters.” This statement, although true, is in need of further development. What the preparatory document and  the Synod failed to do was speak of the Amazon people as Catholics, or as potential Catholics. During the Synod, the Pope called for greater appreciation of the tribal cultures and an end to consumerism, but he seemed to neglect the all-important topic of  salvation for these people’s souls.

Only one paragraph in the preparatory document specifically addresses the Amazon region’s need for priests. However, this section proposes un-Catholic developments in the Amazon. It speaks about the possibility of ordaining important tribal and familial heads (married men) as priests, a new Amazon rite (a mixture of pagan practices and the Mass), and an official role for Amazon women within the Church. This paragraph draws attention away from traditional evangelization in favor of a radical acceptance of paganism within the Church.

In the Synod, not only did Pope Francis fail to emphasize the need for the Church to evangelize in the Amazon— he relinquished the teaching role of the Church entirely by pointing to the pagan Amazon people as teachers of the Church. 

“We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them and by their cultures,” Francis said during the Synod, quoting the preparatory document. This statement essentially undermines the Church’s divine duty to draw all souls out of error towards herself, Christ’s Mystical Body, in true charity.

According to Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Aeterni Patris, “the only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, Who came on earth to bring salvation and the light of divine wisdom to men, conferred a great and wonderful blessing on the world, when, about to ascend into Heaven, He commanded the Apostles to go and teach all nations, and left the Church He founded to be the common and supreme teacher of the peoples…the Church built upon the promises of its own divine Author, Whose charity it imitated, so faithfully followed out His commands, that its constant aim and chief wish was this: to teach religion and contend forever against errors.”

Francis invites souls, not to the life-giving Body of Christ, but “to an ecological conversion that implies a new way of life.” He describes the Amazon people as discovering God and the Wisdom of God primarily through the earth, presenting this natural experience of the world as supernatural life—the life which all men are ultimately willed by God to achieve.

According to Francis and the Synod, conversion is not a turning to God; “conversion means freeing ourselves from the obsession of consumerism… conversion means embracing the mystically-connected and interdependent nature of all creation” 

Francis invites souls to “global solidarity” instead of union in Christ.

Francis calls the Church to “new paths,”  of humane ecological and economic life. Has he forgotten that there is only one Way, one Truth and one Life? Has he forgotten the One Way that is Divinity itself?

Francis calls for an “Amazonian Face of the Church”, a “decentralized Church,” a Catholic Church no longer universal and therefore no longer “Catholic.”

Francis calls for “a practical spirituality, with its feet on the ground” instead of a faith like St. Paul’s, “rooted and grounded in charity.”

Disregarding the “things that are above where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father,” Christ’s Vicar on earth looks away from His Head to the earth. 

Despite the Pope’s grave negligence and error, the Church is ever ruled by its Divine Head, Who, in instituting His one true Church, promised that not even the gates of Hell shall prevail against it.

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