The Amazon Synod: calling for better Shepherds of God

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Photo by Patrick Goodman

In last week’s issue of The University News, the author of the article “Paganism in the Vatican: The spirit of the Amazon Synod” criticized the secular diction of the preparatory document for the Amazon synod. While I agree with her frustration that the Amazon synod has yielded “an overwhelming cacophony of celebration, confusion and dismay,” I don’t attribute all of the synod’s failings to Pope Francis’ “grave negligence and error.”

Isabella Childs, the author of last week’s article on the Amazon Synod, appears concerned over the ecological and economic focus of the Amazon synod. She claims, “Christ’s Vicar on earth looks away from His Head to the earth.”

The themes of the Amazon synod are certainly too earthly-minded, especially when one considers the actual purpose of a synod in the Catholic Church.

The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a synod as “a meeting of the bishops of an ecclesiastical province… to discuss the doctrinal and pastoral needs of the church.” Both the author of last week’s commentary and the synod fathers themselves would benefit from understanding this definition of a Church synod. 

Childs mistakenly attributes the contents of the synod’s preparatory documents to Pope Francis. If these statements are attributable to interviews with Pope Francis, then this should be made more apparent. It is important to recognize that Pope Francis monitors the dialogue of a synod (sometimes referred to as a council of bishops), but the majority of the discussion occurs between the bishops participating in the synod from all over the world.

Although the topics covered at the synod are a cause for concern, Childs’ allusion to Matthew 16:18 concludes her argument with the idea that the preparatory document has finalized a big transition in the Church. 

When the Pachamama, a pagan god,  was revealed to be present during the opening Mass in Santa Maria del Traspontina, I must admit that I was angry. However, a synod “has nothing to do with changing doctrine,” as Cardinal Raymond Burke said at the Call to Holiness conference in Detroit on Oct. 26.  

The proposal of a married priesthood in the synod discussions, even if they pertain to the Amazon region, cannot be regarded as an enforced practice right now. Such proposals are still under scrutiny, by the laity, bishops and Pope Francis himself. However, considering such a proposal because of evangelical need is a failure to address the issue within the proper purpose of a synod. 

Contrary to Childs’ rather bleak picture of the synod participants and Pope Francis, a few bishops of the Amazon Synod openly opposed the suggestion of a married priesthood or a female diaconate to address a shortage of priests in the Amazon.

 In an interview originally published in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on Oct. 7, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, called the argument for a married priesthood in the Amazon region  “a functionalist concession of the priesthood.” According to Cardinal Sarah, the synod fathers discussed the priesthood as a branch of a business rather than as a spiritual vocation to resemble Christ. 

The synod focused on “ecological sins” and the plight of indigenous people rather than concrete evangelical plans to grow the Church in the Amazon region. 

Bishops are called to be shepherds of God, and if a majority of them at the Amazon synod appeared complicit in or actively encouraging pagan rituals or practices which violate Church doctrine and tradition, the Catholic laity ought to take notice and hold the bishops accountable. 

I also would like to provide some context by pointing out that Childs’ critiques rely upon the Amazon Synod’s preparatory document. The final document was released in the last week of October, but appears to only be available in Italian. Bishop Erwin Kräutler was the main author of the final document.

The final document of the Amazon Synod was voted on by synod fathers and presented to Pope Francis for consideration on Oct. 26, according to an Oct. 27 article by Church Militant. 

The laity can, as Childs practiced in last week’s article, criticize the Holy See and the bishops. St. Paul confronted St. Peter in Acts 15 over the exclusion of Gentiles from Baptism in the Council of Jerusalem, and Catholics today can similarly correct the successor of St. Peter and the Apostles, the pope and the bishops. We must remember that Papal infallibility refers only to when Pope Francis speaks as the Chair of St. Peter on an essential truth of moral or theological doctrine. 

We ought to keep asking questions, criticizing and searching for solutions to the problems in our Catholic Church, especially the critical shortage of priests. However, we cannot afford to compromise on teachings that have guided the Church throughout the millennia, and ought to search for something better than what the Amazon Synod has provided. 

In our questioning and criticizing, it is of the utmost importance that we are careful and accurate, so that we create more order, peace and stability for the Church, instead of chaos. 

Two weeks following the conclusion of the Amazon Synod, the laity ought to follow the example of the Apostles before Pentecost and engage in fasting and praying.  Prayer and correction, especially of the Magisterium, are necessary so that the confusion within the Church does not persist.

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