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Ambiguities and controversy: Another day at the Synod

Questions and concerns about syncretism, an Amazonian rite, and funding from the Ford Foundation.

Pope Francis meets indigenous people from the Amazonian region during an encounter in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Oct. 17, 2019. The meeting took place during the second week of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Pan-Amazonian Synod suspended its general session today to permit the circoli minori (small groups) to further discuss topics in depth. Afterwards, Pope Francis met with the indigenous invitees of the Synod. In doing so, he continued to stress the major theme of inculturation, drawing upon the Parable of the Seed. “The peoples,” he told his guests, “receive the announcement of Jesus with their own culture.”

Pope Francis explained that the seed grows according to the earth on which it falls. He sketched the history of Christianity from its origin in the Jewish land through the Greek world, advancing into Europe and America.

In a particular reference to the Amazonian region, Pope Francis shared his concern that colonization might arrive new forms. The topic of inculturation is present in most of the discussion groups as well. However, the word “inculturation” has not been given a definitive meaning within the context of evangelization. Some limit the term to catechesis and liturgy in native languages, while others insist that a broad inculturation is the best means of avoiding “colonization.” The latter wish to import dance, indigenous symbols, and some rituals.

But to include indigenous rituals and symbols is a delicate matter and risks syncretism. The dilution of the gospel imperatives to accommodate native sensibilities is a point of departure for some of the voting members (that is, bishops) of the Synod. The Synod Fathers must attempt to arrive at some acceptable definition of “inculturation.” Questions regarding how inculturation is achieved—local feast days, foods and music, local rituals and dances are problematical.

A bishop entering the Paul VI Hall earlier today was asked if he favored an Amazonian rite. The prelate declined to say more than “It’s too unsettled as to what that liturgy would be.”

At the Sala Stampa, the Vatican Press Office, a minor drama took place during the daily press briefing when veteran Vaticanist Edward Pentin, of National Catholic Register, confronted Archbishop Roque Paloschi. Abp. Paloschi is president of CIMI, the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference’s Indigenous Missionary Council.

Pentin told Abp. Paloschi that a Brazilian journalist had uncovered CIMI grants from the Ford Foundation in excess of two million dollars. “It’s well known”said Pentin, “that the Ford Foundation is an overtly pro-abortion organization that has advocated gender ideology, both of which the Church strongly opposes.” He offered the briefing panel a sheaf of papers with the figures from the Ford Foundation. “Is any of that funding,” he asked, “being used to fund REPAM?” REPAM—the Pan-Amazon Church Network—has helped organize the Synod.

The prelate attempted to defuse the uncomfortable moment by citing CIMI’s open books and accountability to the Brazilian government. He even assured the press that his “personal bank account had already be checked.” But, there had been no inquiry from Pentin regarding the archbishop’s personal finances. Perhaps Paloschi heard the question in the context of the current financial irregularities at the Vatican. The question of the morality of any Catholic organization accepting millions in funds from an international pro-abortion foundation was unanswered. Details and documentation can be found in Pentin’s article, titled “Pro-Abortion Ford Foundation Major Funder of Key Synod Organizations”, posted today on the Register website.

Revelations such as a relationship between CIMI and the Ford Foundation are sure to send journalists digging into other connections between Amazonian NGOs and international organizations that fund a plethora of unethical projects from abortion and population control to cloning and Euthanasia. Some of the 184 Synod Fathers will likely have quiet misgivings as the news of this apparent financial impropriety comes to light. Tomorrow’s small group discussions may reflect a new caution among the bishops. Pope Francis has asked for transparency in the Synod—perhaps some has come in an unexpected form.

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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. Those who are playing the neo-pagan game, with pro-choice doctrines in sex and religion from their roman clerical confort, should. first of all, learn some german.
    Then, go to Amazon and “discern” their favorite choice.
    Masks and naked idols will be provided for free.

  2. Thanks Mary Jo for keeping us abreast to significant developments at the Amazonia Synod. “Some limit [inculturation] to catechesis and liturgy [native languages] others broad inculturation as means of avoiding ‘colonization’ The latter wish to import dance, indigenous symbols, and some rituals” (Anderson). Inculturation [religious] adapts a message the Gospel to facilitate acquisition by a culture. Acculturation is adapting to the culture. The difference was experienced in China and the missionary labors of Fr Matteo Ricci SJ. “Jesuit Ricci began mission work China 1582 introducing Western science, mathematics, astronomy, and visual arts to the imperial court, and carrying on significant inter-cultural and philosophical dialogue with Chinese scholars, particularly representatives of Confucianism. He supported Chinese traditions by agreeing with the veneration of family ancestors. Foremost was adaptation to local customs—including the style of clothing proper to the Confucian literati. Dominican and Franciscan missionaries considered this an unacceptable accommodation, and later appealed to the Vatican on the issue. This Chinese rites controversy continued for centuries, with the most recent Vatican statement as recently as 1939. Some contemporary authors have praised Ricci as an exemplar of beneficial inculturation avoiding at the same time distorting the Gospel message or neglecting the indigenous cultural media” (Oxford Handbooks). Fr Ricci combined inculturation with a degree of acculturation including vestments some ritual [veneration] although assiduously preserving the Gospel message and sacramental worship,the Mass. Those Synod participants “who wish to import dance, indigenous symbols, and some rituals” seem more intent on doctrinally rephrasing the Gospel message to suit the indigenous culture evident in Viri Probati ordination of married men including Shamans, ordination of women, inclusion of ritualistic effigies such as Pachamama an occult object of pagan worship. And, at least suggested by some doctrinal changes to the Mass. Furthermore as E Pentin reports the abortion promoting Ford Foundation significant contributions makes a statement. Abortion, infanticide is widespread among Amazonia indigenous and has already been met with some accommodation. At present the Synod leans more toward acculturation and adaptation of the Gospels to the indigenous culture rather than inculturation and preservation of the Gospels.

  3. This very week at Holy Mass, St. Paul addressed the “Jungle Synod” Head on.

    In a remarkable coincidence, Pope Francis saw fit, in conjunction with his “Jungle Synod,” to take time out to rail against “rigidity about the 6th Commandment.”

    Remarkable coincidence, in that St. Paul joins the same 2 themes in his Letter to the Romans, Ch. 1, 16-25, read at Mass (was it Tuesday?). St. Paul observed how those who worship the creature, instead of the Creator, having abandoned the Divine Light, fall into the darkness of sexual degradation.

    Who would have guessed, that 2000 years hence, St. Paul would give moral warning to the Romans again…for the 2 very same things?

  4. Mr. Luis Ventura, spanish anthropologist and indian activist, is also a member of the CIMI and one of the participants at this synod. He openly advocates the abolition of celibacy for priests, supports ordination of women, and Indian theology.There is no real desire of any of these people to help the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, that have survived until now without the help of the Vatican. Neither there is any desire from anyone participating in this synod, to evangelize and to make the REAL HEAD of the Church, known, loved, and adored. No, He is the most forgotten One. Pedophilia, child sacrifice and poligamy is rampantin the Amazon region.The indians embraced some means of technology, as we can see in this photo a cell phone in the hands of one of them.So, this talk about teh climate, how they live in harmony with nature, and that the Church needs to put on the Amazonian face….is all an opportunity to revive Indian/ Liberation theology and erase the Revelation of Christ. The big betrayal.

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