International News

U.S. Church Leaders Weigh in on Amazon Synod Days Before it Opens

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

NEW YORK – As the global Catholic Church turns its attention to the plight of indigenous people in the Amazon, a number of American groups have issued statements offering stark contrasts on the region.

The Catholic League, an advocacy group led by a well-known conservative Catholic commentator, Bill Donohue, which combats what it perceives as anti-Catholic themes in the media, issued a statement on Wednesday saying the major issue at stake is “how to respect the culture of indigenous peoples while at the same time acknowledging inherent deficiencies in it.”

“In short, there is nothing noble about savages – quite the opposite. This must be said because the working document offers a romanticized portrait of the indigenous people of the Amazon region,” he continued.

Donohue’s language characterizing the “deficiencies” in indigenous culture was slammed by a number of Catholic theologians and commentators as insensitive or tinged with racism.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Climate Covenant – a D.C.-based group which partners with Catholic dioceses and parishes to promote the Church’s environmental teachings – issued a statement on Wednesday saying that it is “grateful for the Synod’s focus on key themes, especially its emphasis on respect for indigenous peoples who live at the epicenter of the global climate and ecological crises, and whose example provides many solutions to these crises.”

The Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, which is set to kick off on Sunday, will take place throughout the month of October with a focus on the region’s environmental and pastoral needs.

Another U.S.-based group located in the Hudson River Valley in New York drew from their own local history in offering support for the Amazon’s indigenous people.

“Just as the world has failed to listen to the voices of the indigenous peoples of Amazonia, we confess that our work has not attended to the voices of indigenous peoples of the Hudson River Valley,” said a statement from Religious Organizations Along the River (ROAR). “We commit ourselves as an organization to a deeper listening and a closer collaboration going forward.”

Similarly, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas issued a statement in which they stand in solidarity with “communities, especially indigenous communities, harmed by extractive industries such as mineral and coal mining, oil and gas drilling, pipelines and other infrastructure, mega-hydroelectric dams, large-scale corporate agriculture and even, in some cases, renewable energy projects.”

The Franciscan Action Network, also based in D.C., issued a statement praising the focus on indigenous people.

“As Franciscans, we identify with this intentional posture of first listening as a basis for building relationships while respecting the dignity of those who call the Amazon home. With these values in mind, the Franciscan Action Network fully supports the Synod of the Amazon and holds on to hope that reconciliation can be achieved with the indigenous people so we can together nurse our injured Mother Earth back to prime health,” they said ahead of the Synod’s start.

Pax Christi International also said they recognized the need for the Church to dialogue with the indigenous population.

“This process reflects the Kairos spirit of this key moment of change, which will benefit those indigenous communities which Pax Christi International has been accompanying with its member and partners,” they said. “The history of violence in the Pan-Amazon region is far-reaching: from colonization and slavery, to the economic violence we see today that treats people and Earth as disposable.”

With all of the buzz leading up to the synod’s kick-off, one U.S. bishop weighed in on Twitter with a word of caution for all involved.

“Seems to me that some folks are waaay too worried about the Amazon Synod. We don’t have any control over that, do we, but thru prayer?” wrote Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island.

“We should focus more on our local Churches, our dioceses, parishes and schools. That’s where the life of the Church is being lived out everyday,” he concluded.