Synod’s second week opens with continued focus on married priests, ecology, inculturation

A creeping syncretism has been decried by some bishops whose concerns are also not found in the Instrumentum laboris.

Pope Francis meets Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, a member of the Curripaco indigenous community, during a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 8, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

October 14, Rome—The second week of the Pan-Amazonian Synod opened with continued stress on now familiar themes: ordination of married men (viri probati, men of proven virtue), defense of the regional ecology, and inculturation of indigenous spirituality.

The Synod opened on October 6th and will conclude on October 27th. The 185 participants, most of whom are from Central and South America, spent the first week offering their responses to the Intstumentum Laboris, (IL) the Synod’s working document.

Monday’s press briefing followed the morning session of the general assembly of the Synod. Selected members of the Synod brief journalists on the morning sessions, after which press correspondents may ask questions.

Among the issues explored in the morning general session, said Msgr. Carlo Verzeletti of Brazil, was an urgent need to lift the Church’s discipline on celibate priesthood:

In the synod I support and continue to support the importance of being able to ordain married men for the priesthood, so the Eucharist may become a reality that is closer to people and communities, so that these married men can, in fact, accompany the lives of the peoples, the lives of their communities.

Msgr. Verzeletti has served in the Amazonian region for twenty years. Despite the work of heroic early missionaries, Verzeletti believes the region as suffered from “400 years of colonization” and continues to be oppressed by globalization. He told journalists, “I asked in the session that the pope look with affection on this idea, ordained married men. Look at the Eastern Church model.”

In contrast to this proposal for married priests, Synod participant Fr. Martín Lasarte Topolanski offers a different experience. Fr. Lasarte is an Uruguayan priest invited by Pope Francis to the Synod; he opposes proposals for married priests, the “viri probati” advanced in the IL. Months before the Synod opened, Fr. Lasarte wrote against clericalizing of the laity. He pointed to the 16th-century work of St. Francis Xavier in Japan. Priests were martyred and expelled, yet 200 years later “hidden churches” deprived of priests were still baptizing and catechizing children. The community awaited the return of priests who would recognized by their celibacy, a statue of Mary, and a greeting from the Papa in Rome.

Fr. Lasarte served in Angola where he witnessed remarkable Catholic communities that had not seen a priest in years, yet, they faithfully prayed, catechized, and served the poor. The same is true in remote areas of India and the Congo. The solution to the problem of few priests, he said, was identified by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium: “Many places are experiencing a dearth of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This is often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness. Wherever there is life, fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise” (par 107).

During the briefing Msgr. Verzeletti also noted a point raised last week regarding the success of Pentecostalism in the Amazon region. He defended the Church’s lack of comparative progress, “Pentecostals settle a pastor in their committees to live with the people, to know them” while a priest might visit their village four times a year. But it was not noted that Pentecostals do not offer the indigenous an inculturated spirituality.

The subject of inculturation is prickly. Last week there was discussion of the necessity to avoid “imposing” or “colonizing” the people whose own eco-spirituality has something to offer Catholicism. A creeping syncretism has been decried by some bishops whose concerns are also not found in the Instrumentum laboris. A press bulletin of the Synod session on October 7th reported that the idea of an “Amazon Catholic rite” had been floated. The movement toward an ecologically-sensitive spirituality is seen by some Catholics as pantheistic in nature.

Approximately 10% of the Pan-Amazon are indigenous tribes that collectively speak 200 different languages. There are no clear figures on what portion of the indigenous are Catholic. During the briefing press members asked if there had been a comprehensive study to determine how many Catholics live in the Amazon territory. “It would be important to know,” said one member of the press. Thus far the only statistics are about general religious involvement in various denominations. The two replies from the panel insisted it wasn’t about Catholic numbers but about integral ecology, and not about statistics but how the Church relates to the region.

A Spanish correspondent asked the panel, “What is Pope Francis’ main concern for the Synod?” He was told that the panel could not disclose that, but that there had been interventions both for and against married priests.

Panel member Josianne Gauthier, Secretary General Of CIDSE, an alliance of Catholic social justice organizations, gave an impassioned explanation of ecological injustice, another theme for the Synod. “We in North America and Europe,” she said, “must realize our comforts come at a very high cost. It’s an uncomfortable truth and we bear a heavy responsibility to act with urgency.” Guathier believes that the North enjoys safety and prosperity at the cost of insecurity and exploitation of the Amazon areas. CIDSE is an influential international NGO that opposes “systemic injustice, inequity, destruction of nature and promoting just and environmentally sustainable alternatives.”

The CIDSE hopes to implement Laudato si, for which, Gauthier said, she is “very thankful.” In that 2015 encyclical, Pope Francis calls for an “integral ecology” as part of the “care for our common home.” Gauthier admitted that while her concern for “extractive”development projects had not been discussed in the Synod’s general session today, in some the break-out periods the English and French groups discussed divestment to be coherent with Laudato Si.

A member of the Brazilian press questioned if Brazil is actually violating human rights by developing improvements in the region. Previous sessions had criticized the development of hydroelectric power and other infrastructure work. Msgr. Verzeletti said “the Church knows Brazil has sovereignty” but that the Church offered guidelines. “To solve problems you must open up new paths,” he said, “my region was destroyed.” There are reports that in sessions some participants have seen a balance, with recognition there are good effects that come with development, electricity, clean water and modern clinics and hospitals. Yet in official press briefings these points have not been reported.

Venezuelan José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, President of the Congress of Organizations of Indigenous of the Amazon (COICA), added that his people and organizations needed “alliances to protect our people, this is why we are at the synod.” Six million people have fled Venezuela due to extreme inflation and poverty in recent years.

A press member from Peru asked, “What suggestion do you give to bishops? Should the Church change?”  The panel responded that they do not make decisions, but instead share with Pope Francis their experiences in the form of a final document. Members of the panel reminded the press that it is after the Synod’s conclusion that the world will see what the Pontiff thinks of their recommendations.

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About Mary Jo Anderson 32 Articles
Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and speaker whose articles and commentaries on politics, religion, and culture appear in a variety of publications. She was appointed to the USCCB's National Advisory Council (NAC) from 2010 to 2014 and served as member of the NAC Executive Committee in 2011. She covered the Synods from Rome in 2014, 2015, and 2019. She is the co-author of Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers). Follow her on Twitter @maryjoanderson3.


  1. Mary Jo,
    You are covering / writing about an Alice-in-Wonderland abomination of an event. It is all a fraud. The actors in this evil circus will be called to account in God’s own good time.
    This pope does not seek to bring souls to Christ. Like most jesuits, Francis is embarrassed by many things Catholic. Bet on it.

  2. This Synod is a waste of time and money. Christians are being persecuted in Africa, The Middle East and China, religious liberty is under threat in the West, the culture of death is claiming thousands of victims via abortion and euthanasia, and all they can focus on is primitivism and Gaia worship?

    • I agree, it does seem an odd focus considering events elsewhere. Or even in Venezuela.
      They can’t even afford to pay the ticket collectors in Caracas, so people ride the trains for free-when they’re actually running. If you look at what happening in Venezuela today it resembles a dystopian nightmare script.

  3. Thank you, Mary Jo, for giving us a view into what is being pushed and prioritized in the sessions of the Synod’s
    general assembly…….forewarned is forearmed!

  4. Dear Mary Jo your well researched article is hopeful though apparently realistically so ending with “The world will see what the Pontiff thinks of their recommendations”. However when an Amazonia bishop boasts of refrain from conversion and a Pontiff who belittles a happy conversion as boast of “trophyism” hope seems bleak. Missionary experience with real life Noble Savages not endeared to cultic atrocity [infanticide homosexual rituals] showed they rather hunger for Christ’s truth. The harvest is there. Unlike the image of intellectually deformed modernist prelates. There remain devoted men as was my experience at Kachabere Major Seminary Malawi and Spiritan Missionary Seminary Tanzania from which African students went on to become heroic witnesses to Christ emulating the missionary European [mainly] devoted missionaries who also taught. Emails received of assignment to deadly danger in hostile Muslim Pemba. That was then prior to 2013. Our Church is divided into two opposing camps that few except Fr Weinandy, Cardinals Burke and Sarah acknowledge. Sicily and Malta hierarchy are sanctioning priests who teach communion for D&R sans declaration of nullity is prohibited. Told they must conform to the Pontiff. Which implies his suggestions are binding. They are not. The Pontiff does not intervene indicating approbation of Hierarchy faith oppressive policy. Raymond Arroyo was threatened with sanction by the Pontiff’s ideological adviser Fr Spadaro SJ spreading fear perhaps excessive caution among Catholic websites. Insofar as Amazonia an enlightened clergy and Laity are agog with high flown social anthropological musing, men who suffer a deadening apocalypse of faith. Not that they are believers of the occult rather patronizing cognoscenti. What they seem to favor is a demythologizing of Catholicism explaining everything away to natural causes as in Naturalism. Although some prelates involved are against this trend the Pontiff’s ideology usually prevails as already shown with the agenda now under discussion. The interest then is the ploy, to advance an agenda in this turn toward the Noble Savage who possesses a treasure of knowledge in the how to of harmonious encounter with Nature. So the whirlwind of New Age concepts repackaged as New Paradigm enlightenment is the inhibitor to proclaiming the truth. Should we recognize we are at odds though not divisive, certainly not schismatic but remain true to Christ and each one obliged to address the truth? Yes. With discretion, prudence, respect. Nonetheless with conviction.

    • Fr. Morello,
      Thank you for this well considered comment. “…high flown social anthropological musing,” is an accurate description too what we hear daily from the Synod.

    • Very good commentary father, but your treatment of the issues does seem to contain an element that reminds me of Catholic disputes of the past fifty years where ecclesial clashes were seen as that of well intentioned conflicting world views that could hopefully be debated to a resolution.

      When an ecclesial ideology supports or tolerates practices that lead directly to mass murder, we are dealing with profound evil, not an academic debate. Some prelates, including “Princes of the Church,” have become so habituated in moral cowardice that they can dismiss concerns about how to respond to the widespread heartrending practice of burying children alive among indigenous peoples by emphasizing the avoidance of cultural imposition as the primary consideration, we are dealing with prelates crucifying Our Lord all over again. Not a small matter. I’ve known five convicted murderers during my life. After their reform, they each have had greater depth of moral thought than many of our prelates.

      Clearly, these Amazonian peoples are being used as pawns and props to advance a Western agenda of liberal progressivism, including a married priesthood. Ironically, I will concede that despite reading many books by prominent Catholic dissidents I only encountered one intelligent thought, although it can be countered, but in arguing for a married priesthood it has been noted that priests experience abnormal personal development by not having anyone in their life to tell them when they’re being fools.

      The inflated ecology concerns of this pontificate has much to do with the dissolution of a Catholic moral imagination that has traditionally recognized that ideological movements often exist to provide means of escape from a repressed conscience. Anti-populationists can construe their baby killing as benevolent for an “overburdened” planet, and moronic prelates with Catholic moral amnesia are willing to go along.
      On the matter of vocations, the Church receives the number of vocations it deserves. If we lack in vocations, the answer is simple. We need to become deserving. We need to stop sinning so much. It’s not complicated.

  5. First of all, thank all of you who have contributed to this piece, especially Fr. Morello.
    It seems appropriate that the Synod is taking place in October- Halloween is not far away, and much of the folk-religion gyrations and indigenous costumes underscore the trick or treat nature of this faux synod. Who do they think they are fooling? This entire show (not a very convincing one) is a subterfuge, a ruse to further turn the church into an underfunded, Leftist, Health and Human Services agency. And given the power of the modern secular state, the church’s contribution will be swallowed by the large and powerful, and poof! That would be the end of the institutional church. The pope and his fellow architects know this and this has been the plan all along. So – what next? The good news is, it is in God’s hands, not those of the synodal blatherers.

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