Excerpt from Robert Mickens, in La Croix, Feb 2020 on the pope’s response to the final document of last year’s Synod assembly, including the bishops’ specific requests for concrete changes and new initiative.
…in the very first lines, Francis explains that this apostolic exhortation is going to be different.
“I will not go into all of the issues treated at length in the final document. Nor do I claim to replace that text or to duplicate it,” he says.
Rather, he explains that his exhortation will be merely “a brief framework for reflection… that can help guide us to a harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the entire synodal process.”
In other words, the papal text is only partof the process. Francis is not pronouncing the final word or making final decisions with this exhortation.
That should have been clear to anyone who read even just the first page of Querida Amazonia.
And the pope goes further.
I’m Pope Francis, and I approve this message
“At the same time, I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod,” he says.
What does officially present mean? The final document has been available to the public since the day it was presented to the pope at the Amazon Synod.
It sure sounds like the pope is giving his approval to the final document, especially when he then says this:
“May the pastors, consecrated men and women and lay faithful of the Amazon region strive to apply it, and may it inspire in some way every person of good will.”
Would the pope urge Catholics to apply a document, or encourage them to draw inspiration from it, if it did not conform to sound teaching and right belief?
In the 2018 apostolic constitution to reform the Synod of Bishops, Episcopalis communio, the pope says:
“Once the approval of the members has been obtained, the Final Document of the Assembly is presented to the Roman Pontiff, who decides on its publication.
“If it is expressly approved(my emphasis) by the Roman Pontiff, the Final Document participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter” (Art. 18 § 1).
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the outgoing secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, split hairs over semantics when asked if this is what Francis had done in his exhortation concerning the final document of the Amazon Synod.
The 79-year-old cardinal said the phrase “officially present” was not the proper canonical language.
The Amazon Synod has ended, but it’s only just begun
But, in the end, that really doesn’t matter. The pope has clearly not stopped discussion on any of the issues raised in the final document or the Synod process, which he sees as ongoing.
Not only is he encouraging further discussion. He is also encouraging a further and deeper development and experience of synodality.
Bishop Erwin Kräutler, an Austrian-born missionary in Brazil, remains convinced that Francis is willing to approve the ordination of married priests, something the pope told him back in 2014.
But Francis will not take the action on his own initiative, the now-retired bishop said.
However, if a national or regional conference of bishops comes to an overwhelming consensus on the need to ordain married priests, what would the pope do?
Kräutler and others believe he would say yes.
It may be only a matter of months before we find out if they’re right.
A land that is also ours
What happens in the Amazonian region is of vital concern for the entire Church and the whole world
Pope Francis during a private audience with an indigenous community of the Amazon, Vatican City, Oct. 17, 2019. (Photo by EPA-EFE/VATICAN MEDIA/MaxPPP)
The title of the pope’s new exhortation sounds like a declaration of love for this part of the South American continent, which seems so far away. And yet it is one that everyone is invited to make his own.
The land of Amazonia is also “ours”, writes Pope Francis. What happens there concerns us first and foremost.
And the way in which its inhabitants are trying to meet social, cultural, ecological and ecclesial challenges can be a source of inspiration everywhere in the world.
This is especially true concerning efforts to stimulate and revitalize Christian communities.
Certainly, those who were waiting for the pope to open the door to married priests will be disappointed.
Francis does not ignore the situation of communities deprived of the Eucharist, which he reminds us is central to the Christian life. Instead, he proposes other paths, such as the re-launching of vocations ministry or a new missionary generosity.
Above all, he emphasizes the role of basic Christian communities, the laity, and — more specifically — women, who have kept the Church alive “without a priest coming to see them; even for decades”.
So it is easier to understand why the pope did not accept the proposal to ordain viri probati. He believes there is a risk of clericalizing the laity, which could eventually compromise the vitality of the (lay) Catholic communities of Amazonia.
It would be a loss not only for this land, but for the entire Church. The Church needs diversity within itself to stimulate its imagination and revive its missionary vitality.
Like the Earth, the Church needs its green lung to breathe and live. It is in the Amazon.
Pope Francis during his visit to the Hogar principito children’s home in the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado in January 2018. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP)
Many “cries” from the Amazon were raised at the Vatican last October during a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Pope Francis has now responded to them in an apostolic exhortation called, Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazonia), published Feb. 12.
The pope offers four “dreams” (social, cultural, ecological and pastoral) for the Amazonian region. But will they be enough to meet the many expectations raised by the Synod?
Cardinal Michael Czerny, who was the secretary of the Synod assembly, said these dreams of Francis should not be seen as utopia.
“The dream here is an indication of a path that the whole Church must take. Its beauty lies precisely in the vision of a horizon, and not in the imposition of a series of precepts,” the cardinal told reporters Wednesday at the launch of the papal document.
A healthy sense of indignation
The text is evocative and seasoned with poetic and literary references.
It will resonate deeply with all those who have long been concerned about the wounds inflicted on what Carlos Nobre, Brazil’s Nobel Prize winning climate scientist, described as “the biological heart of the earth”.
And Francis does not mince his words.
He describes as “injustice” and “crimes” those “national or international (actions), which harm the Amazon and fail to respect the right of the original peoples to the land and its boundaries, and to self-determination and prior consent”.
The pope calls for “a healthy sense of indignation” and does not hesitate to denounce the complicity of “local powers” that, “using the excuse of development, were also party to agreements aimed at razing the forest – together with the life forms that it shelters – with impunity and indiscriminately”.
He also calls into question “a false ‘mystique of the Amazon'” that presents the region “as an enormous empty space to be filled, a source of raw resources to be developed, a wild expanse to be domesticated” — all while ignoring the peoples who live there.
Once again, Francis stands as the defender of indigenous peoples.
He says their “good living” consists of “personal, family, communal and cosmic harmony and finds expression in a communitarian approach to existence, the ability to find joy and fulfillment in an austere and simple life, and a responsible care of nature that preserves resources for future generations.”
Nevertheless, the pope’s approach cannot be summed up in a pure “ecological” or “indigenist” vision, since his four dreams – social, cultural, ecological and pastoral – are all closely intertwined.
‘The Amazon region must better integrate the social and the spiritual’
Francis refuses to contrast inculturation with proclamation of the faith.
Rather, he says “a relationship with Jesus Christ, true God and true man, liberator and redeemer, is not inimical to the markedly cosmic worldview that characterizes the indigenous peoples, since he is also the Risen Lord who permeates all things”.
Proclamation, he warns, must have “a markedly social cast, accompanied by a resolute defence of human rights”.
He says it “must better integrate the social and the spiritual, so that the poor do not have to look outside the Church for a spirituality that responds to their deepest yearnings”.
Thus, he warns against the temptation to “describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples”.
During last October’s Synod assembly some people were outraged at the use of statuettes considered pagan. Some young men went even went so far as to remove them from a church and throw them into the Tiber River.
But Francis says clearly in his new document that “it is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry”.
And he says inculturation must be far-reaching. That includes the liturgy (in a footnote he cites the possibility of an Amazonian Rite) and ministries.
“If we are to inculturate spirituality, holiness and the Gospel itself, how can we not consider an inculturation of the ways we structure and carry out ecclesial ministries?” he asks.
The risk of ‘clericalizing women’
But Francis’ audacity does not go so far as to pronounce on the women’s diaconate, as the Amazon Synod’s final document did.
He acknowledges that the Church would “collapses” without women.
But the pope who has made the struggle against clericalism a major axis of his pontificate refuses to think only in terms of “status”. This, he says, runs the risk of “clericalizing women.”
As usual, therefore, he prefers to get around the obstacle, by pleading that women should “have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs”.
“Here it should be noted that these services entail stability, public recognition and a commission from the bishop,” the pope insists.
He intentionally uses the word “service” here, rather than its Latin equivalent “ministry”. Undoubtedly, this is to avoid confusion with ordained ministry, which many tend to reduce to be the most important thing in the Church.
On the question of ordaining married men to the priesthood, Francis is also very cautious, given that the debate on this issue is divisive and caricatured.
And while the Synod’s proposal that married deacons be ordained priests to serve communities that rarely receive the Eucharist aroused strong opposition — some even called for the “abolition” of celibacy — the pope rejects the vision of those who would like to absolutize celibacy.
Instead, he makes a clear distinction between priesthood and power by concentrating on “what is most specific to a priest, what cannot be delegated”: the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
‘A Church of Amazonian features’
Francis sees this as “the heart of the priest’s exclusive identity”.
But without opening or closing any doors, he then draws the outlines of “a Church with Amazonian features” where different lay ministries would be articulated around the priestly ministry “concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay”.
The pope does not say what sort of services or ministries he has in mind, with the exception of those for women community leaders. But there are many specific examples in the Synod’s final document.
And it would be a mistake to read Querida Amazonia as a rejection of the proposals found in that text.
On the contrary, a the very beginning the apostolic exhortation, Francis says he does not want to “replace” or “duplicate” the Synod’s final document.
He says he chose not to quote it in his exhortation “because I would encourage everyone to read (the final document) in full”.
“This presentation does not mean approval of the final document,” Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, insisted.
He told journalists explicit approval would have meant integrating the final document into the papal magisterium, according to the rule issued two years ago by Francis.
‘There are questions that remain open’
“But this official presentation gives the final document a certain moral authority,” added Cardinal Czerny.
“Ignoring it would be a lack of obedience to the legitimate authority of the Holy Father, while finding one or another point difficult cannot be considered a lack of faith,” he said.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, said Francis signed the apostolic exhortation as Bishop of Rome from the Lateran, rather than the Vatican, in order to highlight the pastoral dimension of the document.
Cardinal Czerny said the exhortation should not be seen as the final point of the Synod.
Rather, he said it is the beginning of a new phase of deepening our understanding of the Synod process and implementing it, both on the spot, in Amazonia, and in Rome, where we must continue to reflect on points of interest for the whole Church.
“We cannot speak here in terms of closing or blocking,” the cardinal insisted.
“There are questions that, for the pope, remain open. They will continue to be debated until a mature decision is reached,” he said.