By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent and Inés San Martín
ROME (Crux) – Catholic communities in the Amazon might be able to ordain married men to the priesthood under limited circumstances, based on the outcome of a meeting of bishops in Rome that issued its final report Oct. 26 – although the document stopped short of a full-throated endorsement for the ordination of either married men or women deacons.
The Vatican’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon neared its conclusion on Saturday evening, with a majority of the 184 bishops and other clergy voting to approve each paragraph of the final 30-page document, “Amazonia: New Ways for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” It offers a narrow opening to ordain married men in remote areas of the nine-country region, although the proposed language limits the ordination to men who are already deacons.
The document establishes parameters for the ordination of “esteemed men of the community,” commonly referred to as viri probati.
Such circumstances would be open to those who “have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legitimately constituted and stable family, to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.”
The proposal is meant to offer a solution to the remote regions of the Amazon where some Catholic communities only receive the sacraments once or twice a year.
“Sometimes it takes not just months but even several years before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist, offer the sacrament of reconciliation or anoint the sick in the community,” the document notes.
While noting that celibacy is “a gift of God,” the document says that it is a “discipline” not required by the nature of the priesthood. It is also pointed out that some of the synod participants “were in favor of a more universal approach to the subject,” although the document does not go further.
On the question of whether to ordain women to the diaconate — a much-discussed topic during the three-week gathering — the text recommends further study on the historical nature of the question, while noting that “in a large number of these consultations, the permanent diaconate for women was requested.”
The use of the word “consultations” refers to input collected during the two-year lead-up to the Synod.
On Saturday, Pope Francis noted that the members of that commission had not reached a conclusive decision, but that with the help of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he pledged that he will once again have a commission examine the subject. He said that the request must “be heard.”
In his final remarks to the synod on Saturday evening, the pontiff acknowledged that the document “falls short” in expressing the real value women have within the Church and their role in the transmission of the faith. While he said that women have a necessary place in Church commissions, Pope Francis said that their role in the Church “goes much farther than functionality.”
“The ancestral wisdom of the peoples [of the Amazon is] that Mother Earth has a feminine face,” the document states. “We value ‘the role of women, recognizing their fundamental role in the formation and continuity of cultures, in spirituality, in communities and families. It is necessary for the Church to assume with greater strength their leadership within the Church, and for the Church to recognize and promote it by strengthening their participation in the pastoral councils of parishes and dioceses, and even in instances of government.’”
When asked about efforts to reach consensus on the hot-button issues of married priests and women deacons, Cardinal Michael Czerny, a special secretary to the Synod, said “the process is ongoing.”
In his final remarks, the Holy Father also said that the emphasis should not be “who won” intraeclesial debates but on the region itself, which he said was the main focus.
“We all won with the diagnosis,” he said of the final document’s attention to the complex needs of the Amazon.
Announced in 2017, the Vatican summit was meant as a reflection on the reality of the region. The final document is divided into five subchapters, calling for four different types of conversions: pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal.
The introduction of the document notes that all participants have expressed a keen “awareness of the dramatic situation of destruction affecting the Amazon.”
During a news conference to present the final document, Bishop David Martinez de Aguirre, the apostolic vicar of Puerto Maldonado, Peru, emphasized its ecological dimension, noting that the cry of the indigenous, who know that “if the rainforest disappears, we all die with it,” is present throughout.
He also lamented the fact that the extraction of gold is “closer to all of us than the word of God,” urging the Church to help intervene in both protecting the Amazon and promoting an evangelizing zeal, with a more “abundant” presence of the Church.
In their document, the bishops denounce violations of human rights by multinational companies exploiting the natural resources of the Amazon, and also say they “support divestment campaigns against extractive companies related to socio-ecological damage of the Amazon, beginning with the ecclesial institutions themselves and also in alliance with other churches.”
Cardinal Czerny added that the document speaks of conversion because this word reflects “taking hold of the problems” facing the Amazon, knowing that simply analyzing them further or forming commissions is not going to cut it.
“We have to recognize that to solve the problems, we are going to have to change, convert,” he said.
In discussing the Church in the Amazon region, the document acknowledges that the evangelization of Latin America, though positive in many ways and with several missionaries who gave their lives to transmit the Gospel beyond the greed of the colonizing powers, took place “under the sway of powers that exploited the resources and oppressed the local populations.”
“In the present moment, the Church has the historic opportunity to distance itself from the new colonizing powers by listening to the Amazonian peoples and transparently exercising its prophetic activity,” it continues.
“In addition, the socio-environmental crisis opens up new opportunities to present Christ with all his power to liberate and humanize,” the document says.
Listening to the cry of the earth, the poor and the peoples of the Amazon calls for a “true and integral conversion, to a simple and model style of life, all nourished by a mystical spirituality in the style of St. Francis of Assisi.”
When it comes to pastoral conversion, the Synod fathers call on the Church to be Samaritan, merciful and in solidarity with others, as well as committed to ecumenical, interreligious and cultural dialogue.
They also call for a church that is at the service of and accompanies the people of the Amazon and to be one that travels new paths in urban pastoral ministry, taking into account the fact that humanity has a strong tendency to concentrate in cities.
“The reality of indigenous people in urban centers deserves special attention, as they are the most exposed to the enormous problems of juvenile delinquency, lack of work, ethnic struggles and social justices,” the document states.
One of several proposals to foster this pastoral conversion was an itinerant network that brings together the efforts being made by several itinerant missionary teams that already accompany the communities in the Amazon.
On the new paths of cultural conversion, the Synod fathers highlight the “integrated vision of reality” that the indigenous people offer. This section focuses greatly on the inculturation of the faith and theology, but also underlined the wealth of popular piety and a rejection of the “colonial style of evangelization.”
Ecology was a key element of the Synod, and was again in the final document, listing the several threats against the Amazon biome and its peoples, saying that it is urgent to face the “unlimited exploitation of our ‘common home’ and its inhabitants.”
The Catholic Church, the bishops say in the document, is part of an “international solidarity” that must recognize the central role of the Amazon for the equilibrium of the planet’s climate.
Among the recommendations on an ecological conversion is the official recognition of a “ecological sins.”
The document concludes with a proposal for a commission to study the possibility of establishing an Amazon rite within the Catholic Church for the region for “liturgical pluralism.”
“It is necessary that the Church, in her tireless evangelizing work, work so that the process of inculturation of the faith may be expressed in the most coherent forms, so that it may also be celebrated and lived according to the languages proper to the Amazonian peoples,” the document states.
The document also calls for the creation of committees for the translation and writing of Biblical and liturgical texts in the languages of the different places, with proper resources, encouraging also music and singing. The new organism of the Church in the Amazon, they wrote, must elaborate an Amazon rite that “expresses the liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual patrimony of the Amazon.”
The five proposals that considered the creation of a new Amazon rite were among the least popular ideas for the bishops. With the exception of one on inculturation, they drew at least 22 negative votes, with the last one, calling for study of a new rite, 29.
Pope Francis said on Saturday that while it is not mandatory that he write a final document from the Synod, he would like to do so, preferably before the end of the year.
The October 6-27 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon officially concluded Sunday, Oct. 27 with a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.