The Synod of Bishops for the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazon Region draws to a close in Rome this weekend. The gathering isn’t without dramatic tension.
A working “blueprint” document, the Instrumentum Laboris, drew critical fire from top minds in the Church. Charges of blasphemous “idol worship” dogged the synod from its opening ceremony, which featured bowing before a naked pregnant statue. Troubling reports of Vatican finances hover over Rome. A handful of synod bishops met in the Catacombs of Domatilla to sign a pact. Unidentified lay Catholics, aggrieved by the presence of the “idols” in a church steps from St. Peter’s Basilica, tossed the statues into the Tiber River at dawn on Monday. On Friday the Pope apologized for the theft of the statues, and said the now-recovered images may appear during the synod’s closing Mass on Sunday.
Friday, the General Congregation will be presented with the final document, fruit of their three weeks of “walking together” to discern the direction of the Church in the Pan-Amazon region. A better metaphor might be “cooking together” as the Synod Fathers review and revise the Instrumentum Laboris (IL), an experimental recipe for the Amazon. Ingredients are added, removed, or doubled until a consensus document is produced. The final document, in theory based on the interventions and proposals of bishops, is written by drafting committee. Or not. Bishop Erwin Kräutler, who was a principal author of the IL, said mid-week that “no one knows” who wrote the final document.
Saturday the bishops vote on the final document, item by item. The results are then vouchsafed to the Pope as recommendations of the Special Synod. Pope Francis takes this work and discerns the path ahead. He may, or may not, issue an exhortation based on the work of the Synod.
Thursday’s briefing at the Sala Stampa, the press office of the Holy See, touched on indigenous theology. Prior briefings brought questions from the press about an inculturated liturgy and the proposal of an Amazonian Rite. The question is testy because of the “Pachamama” figure at various events and the limp attempt of the Press Office to explain where the statues came from or what they represent to the indigenous people of the Amazon. All week claims and counter claims have ping-ponged around the issue: where does inculturation slide into syncretism? There have been no satisfactory answers.
An easy comfort with syncretism seems to be affirmed by Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor of La Civilta Cattolica. “It is necessary to live in a spirit of profound reconciliation with our origin from the ‘dust of the earth’ (cf. Gen 2:7),: it is essential we integrate with our Sister-Mother Earth as the reality on which our life and our future depend.” This language may be understood as metaphorical by most Catholics, but the context is Amazonian, where indigenous people claim it as their “reality.” Father Spadaro wrote, “In the Magisterium of Francis…ecological conversion” is necessary. One wonders if, in the context of the “new paradigm” this is before or after a conversion to Jesus Christ?
Eleazar López Hernández, an expert in indigenous theology, is a Mexican priest. At Thursday’s briefing Father López Hernández told press that the Amazon synod is evidence of the new attitude of the Church. Missionaries “have left the boats” for a new relationship built on fraternity, not colonization. Past missionaries came with the same boats “whose people colonized us,” he said. Today, “many missionaries have left the boat of the conquerors, and began to walk with us…the pope too has disembarked.”
Father López Hernández’s statement reflects the voice of some Europeans at the synod. This view presumes that the missionary work of thousands of priests and brothers throughout the Americas in the last 500 years is invalid because it is stained with colonialism. The irony of this prismatic slant is lost on them: the first missionaries were successful, the modern syncretist approach is hemorrhaging. South American Catholics are fleeing to Pentecostalism.
Any dismissal of colonialism misses the history of Catholic evangelism. Queen Isabella of Spain, whose colonist boats landed in the Americas, insured that every boat had priests aboard. Her primary goal was missionary, not Mammon. The reverse is what we see in the effort to form a collaborative Church where missionary work is tossed overboard (Bishop Kräutler refused to baptize indigenous people) to free the Church to become just one more international NGO. Isn’t this what REPAM appears to be, some ask, in its excitement to collaborate with “world leaders” and to receive monies from foundations that support abortion, gay rights, and birth control?
The entire thrust of an integral ecology as outlined in the IL is perceived by skeptics as a veil to permit syncretist pantheism. The framework of IL is one of receiving wisdom and traditions from a particular region of the world as revelation. This very framework is what Cardinal Gerhard Müller warned about in his seven-page critique. “Here a certain territory is being declared to be a ‘particular source of God’s Revelation,’ then one has to state that this is a false teaching,” the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote.
On Friday the entire Synod of Bishops Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazon will learn what their efforts have produced. It may include an enhanced commissioned role for women, just short of a female diaconate. It will almost certainly include a proposal that the Pope study more closely the ordination of viri probati (respected married men). What it will hold for an Amazonian Rite is uncertain. What it will hold for the evangelization of souls in the Pan-Amazon is even more uncertain.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!