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The Amazon Synod closes with a dramatic week

Father Eleazar Lopez Hernandez, a member of the Zapoteca people in Mexico, speaks during a news conference after a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 24, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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.

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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. The GOOD NEWS is that “Saturday the bishops vote on the final document, item by item.” A 2/3rds vote is required for inclusion in the final report. The BAD NEWS—-based on the precedent of Amoris Laetitia—-might well be that this step (a precaution of the Holy Spirit?) is possibly meaningless (old paradigm).

    The ploy with Amoris Laetitia was initially to have the bishops vote only once on the package deal as a whole. When the bishops’ personal obligation and right to vote item-by-item was not surrendered to the podium, the embedded paragraphs 52 and 53 yielded LESS THAN the required 2/3rds vote of the Synod (for divorced and remarried having access to the Eucharist).

    Pope Francis ordered that these sections still be included in the final report (his prerogative), and the Vatican narrative was that the synod had approved the (bundled) final report by the needed 2/3rds vote.

    One is reminded of the global financial MELTDOWN of 2008 when insolvent real estate investments were likewise “bundled” into much larger investment instruments (“derivatives”), only to find that instead of remaining afloat the entire investment world collapsed. The common sense understanding of the bad-apple-in-the-barrel now applies big-time to the secular world, but still NOT to theological bundlers of Amoris Laetitia and now the Amazonia final report. Instead, and again, probably some creative editing capped with an (unvoted?) and open-range footnote (as fn. 351 in Amoris Laetitia).

    Instead of incorporating ourselves sacramentally into the divine life of the singular Jesus Christ, the syncretic novelty is to flatten and incorporate Christ as part of a collage of indigenous natural theologies…

    No longer to “assemble” around the Eucharistic Presence; instead to congregate from far afield, prodded by cowboy bishops RATHER THAN led by apostolic shepherds.

    HOW TO EVANGELIZE a post-Christian and pre-Christian world, and anti-Christian, is a novelty in all of history. The need to engage, and the difficulty, are fully appreciated. Likewise the relationship between the human ecology and the natural ecology–but not the facile and theologically blurred “integral ecology”.

    The Church universal is not well served by the past three weeks in Amazonia. In step with Evangelii Gaudium, “the whole is greater than [this] part.” Or, more to the point, THE PART (AMAZONIA) IS NOT GREATER THAN THE WHOLE.

  2. Fr Spadaro SJ’s question whether in new paradigm context – if reset in converse asks whether conversion to Christ is prior to or after Amazonia ecological conversion. That in effect tells us conversion to Amazonia ecological worship is consistent with conversion to Christ. Who are we seeking to convert? If it’s the cleric he’s presumed Christian and requires ecological conversion, if the indigenous he’s presumed ecologically converted and requires conversion to Christ. Conversion to Christ must refer exclusively to the indigenous. According to Fr Spadaro’s apparent Freudian logic the indigenous belief in Amazonia ecological belief is putatively at least consistent with new paradigm Christianity. And if a non Christian requires ecological conversion the answer is similar. But this is the impetus of this entire Amazonia Synod rodeo Pachamama goddess of the Andes, Mother Earth representing a world understood in Leonardo Boff’s definition of a superorganism in which we and all things are component and from which we draw meaning rather than confer to it the order and sanctity of Christianity. Any wonder then that the wooden Pachamamas were retrieved from the Tiber kept in security by the Chief of Roman Carabinieri apologized for by the Pontiff for causing ‘possible’ scandal nonetheless kept in consideration for further venerating ritual to celebrate the Synod finale? Any wonder why Cardinal Gerhard Mueller is aghast?

  3. Amazing and with what efficiency the Italian police force, found the idols and brought them to the pope. My fear is what will mean an Amazon Rite, what form will it have? Will we see it a tomorrow, Sunday, at the mess ( yes, it is a mess, not a Mass) closing of the synod? Apparently the mess of this pontificate, until now, has not been enough for Bergoglio.

  4. Some consider idol worship as an archaic, ancient thing good only for archaeological research. But idol worship is very alive and well and as poisonous, dehumanizing, corrupting and lethal today as it was back then. Sin is sin in any time frame. From the worship of “celebrities”, to the worship of corrupt politicians, to the worship of pregnant Pachamama, the worshipping of cheap idols is back. With idols, the cheaper, more worthless and more corrupt the idols, the better.

    Idols are a narcissistic, maniacal celebration of the lowest of the lowest in humans, turning into gods our most despicable, most heinous attitudes and sins. Idolatry is a criminal, satanic orgasm, corrupting our human nature right at God-created core, in our most primary call for obedience in sexual purity. These despicable idols are made from the materials of “sister-mother earth as the reality on which our life and our future depend” (said by Fr. Antonio Spadaro and a total heresy, not even close to a metaphor). Satan is Pachamama and Pachamama is Satan and he, totally envious of God’s gifts to women from the beginning, is now pregnant, full, with the Rosemary’s Baby of Pagan Radical Amazonian Environmentalism.

    In the Book of Revelation, the corrupt harlot rides on the Beast. It would be no exaggeration to say that, in the darkness of the Pagan Amazonian Synod and the overwhelming deception, seduction, tyrannical influence, and crass idolatry around the world brought by Radical Environmentalism, that the absolutely seductive harlot is indeed Radical Environmentalism. “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by the many waters [the huge Amazon river]. With her the kings [Presidents, leaders, influencers] of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries [fanatical betrayal of the True Catholic Faith]… The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the great, the MOTHER [Pachamama] of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth [worship of Nature].” (Revelation 17:1-2,5). Will you allow yourself to also be seduced by recycled, monstrifying, “new-and-improved” idolatry? ““Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67).

  5. One question: The term “new paradigm” has been interjected, without hyperbole, millions of times in the 50+ years of the post VII era. Will the “new paradigm” require of all of us the identical depraved indifference the Synod demonstrated towards the practice of burying children alive?

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