Querida Amazonia: The good, the baffling, and the unexpected

Should this exhortation be seen as a “turning point” for this pontificate? The adage calls us to moderate our expectations: “One swallow does not a summer make.”

Pope Francis leads a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 8, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The long-awaited (dreaded) post-synodal apostolic exhortation has finally dropped. For months, Catholics on the side of the angels have been trolled by the Left into fearing/believing that this document would open the door to married priests and deaconesses – and six years of experience leads to the conclusion that the Pope also takes perverse delectation in trolling “conservatives.” Not a few of these faithful Catholics have responded with anger and rage. Throughout these long months, I have counseled patient prayer, along with a well-founded hope that Christ would not abandon His Church. The papal cheerleaders (like Austen Ivereigh, Massimo Faggioli, and Antonio Spadaro, SJ) are disconsolate, even as they try to spin their depression into reasons for hope – although Faggioli does seem to say that the Left’s confidence in Francis to do their bidding was ill-placed. We should restrain our glee, confining ourselves to thankful praise of God that our worst fears were not realized.

This document is surely out of character for Francis, not at all in keeping with his free-wheeling style. In some sense it reminds me of the amazement that struck observers in 1968 when Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae, against all expectations to the contrary, especially given his pattern of conflict avoidance.

Some other introductory comments:

• Now we can understand the probable cause for the decision of Cardinal Reinhard Marx to forego a bid for a second term as president of the very problematic German episcopal conference. Indeed, word has it that some months back (when he was summoned to Rome by the Pope due to his refusal to heed the Pope’s admonitions about the infamous German “synodal path”), a massive shouting match between them could be heard. However, none of this has kept Marx from weighing in on this document by indicating that it will not stop the Germans from pursuing a married priesthood and female deacons!

• Although German money bankrolled the Synod, apparently it was insufficient to produce their desired final text.

• When the Benedict XVI/Cardinal Sarah book appeared, many hoped that it would stanch any papal attempts at moving in the wrong direction – I, among them. Reliable sources, however, suggest that the text of the exhortation preceded that wonderful book by at least a month. One highly placed cleric was given a copy of the document to review on December 12 – and there were no references at all to either married priests or deaconesses.

• As I read this document, one question kept popping into my head: “Where in the world have the bishops of the Amazon been for the past 500 years that such a document was even thought necessary?”

• There are 145 footnotes, 39% of which are Francis quoting himself. However, there are numerous citations of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. Thomas Aquinas (quoted accurately and interpreted correctly, unlike in Amoris Laetitia).

It seems to me that the best way to proceed with a review of Querida Amazonia (oddly and unusually titled in Spanish, rather than Latin) would be to cull key passages and to offer some commentary on them.

3. . . . I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full.

This is very strange. I don’t believe any post-synodal apostolic exhortation has ever refrained from quoting the Final Document of the synod in question. Due to all the controversies surrounding the synod itself, did the Pope want to distance himself from them, so as to gain a better hearing for his own work here? His justification for this approach (namely, to allow the Final Document to be read and appreciated on its own) rings hollow. Some commentators have suggested that this is just a back-door way of giving the Final Document a hearing, however, in the press conference featuring the release of the exhortation, Cardinal Baldisseri (head of the Synod office) clearly said that the Final Document has no magisterial authority.

The exhortation is structured by way of four “dreams” of Francis:

7. I dream of an Amazon region that fights for the rights of the poor, the original peoples and the least of our brothers and sisters, where their voices can be heard and their dignity advanced.

I dream of an Amazon region that can preserve its distinctive cultural riches, where the beauty of our humanity shines forth in so many varied ways.

I dream of an Amazon region that can jealously preserve its overwhelming natural beauty and the superabundant life teeming in its rivers and forests.

I dream of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features.

I couldn’t help but think I was listening to Martin Luther King, Jr., here!

8. Our dream is that of an Amazon region that can integrate and promote all its inhabitants, enabling them to enjoy “good living.” . . . We do not need an environmentalism “that is concerned for the biome but ignores the Amazonian peoples,”

This will not please environmental extremists (like the teenage pop star, Greta Thunberg, from Scandinavia) who see human beings as the enemies to be eliminated to preserve Mother Earth.

18. It is encouraging to remember that amid the grave excesses of the colonization of the Amazon region, so full of “contradictions and suffering,” many missionaries came to bring the Gospel, leaving their homes and leading an austere and demanding life alongside those who were most defenceless. . . . .Since it was often the priests who protected the indigenous peoples from their plunderers and abusers, the missionaries recounted that “they begged insistently that we not abandon them and they extorted from us the promise that we would return.”

This, too, is fighting language for those who accuse the Church of destroying the wonderful indigenous cultures that practiced human sacrifice and canibalism. The footnote (17) attached to this paragraph is a most welcome citation of the historical record of the Church and the popes on the rights of the indigenous and their condemnation of slavery.

22. Christ redeemed the whole person, and he wishes to restore in each of us the capacity to enter into relationship with others. The Gospel proposes the divine charity welling up in the heart of Christ and generating a pursuit of justice that is at once a hymn of fraternity and of solidarity, an impetus to the culture of encounter. The wisdom of the way of life of the original peoples – for all its limitations – encourages us to deepen this desire.

Acknowledging that the culture of the original peoples had/has limitations is also verboten in “woke” circles.

24. . . . The Amazonian peoples are not immune to corruption, and they end up being its principal victims.

25. Nor can we exclude the possibility that members of the Church have been part of networks of corruption, at times to the point of agreeing to keep silent in exchange for economic assistance for ecclesial works. Precisely for this reason, proposals were made at the Synod to insist that “special attention be paid to the provenance of donations or other kinds of benefits, as well as to investments made by ecclesiastical institutions or individual Christians.”

These are truly remarkable admissions. In regard to ecclesiastical complicity in corruption, might this be a papal swipe at the financial dalliances of the Brazilian episcopal conference with promoters of agendas at variance with Catholic doctrine and morality?

28. The important thing is to promote the Amazon region, but this does not imply colonizing it culturally but instead helping it to bring out the best of itself. That is in fact what education is meant to do: to cultivate without uprooting, to foster growth without weakening identity, to be supportive without being invasive.

33. Here I would like to point out that “a consumerist vision of human beings, encouraged by the mechanisms of today’s globalized economy, has a leveling effect on cultures, diminishing the immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity.” This especially affects young people. . . .

Francis has been very “bullish” on efforts to uproot traditional mores, especially through the use of bribery. His view of education here is very holistic. Likewise, his persistent attacks on “consumerism.”

36. Like all cultural realities, the cultures of the interior Amazon region have their limits. Western urban cultures have them as well. Factors like consumerism, individualism, discrimination, inequality, and any number of others represent the weaker side of supposedly more developed cultures.

37. , , , Far be it from me to propose a completely enclosed, a-historic, static “indigenism” that would reject any kind of blending (mestizaje). A culture can grow barren when it “becomes inward-looking, and tries to perpetuate obsolete ways of living by rejecting any exchange or debate with regard to the truth about man.”

Once again, we hear of indigenous limitations and, likewise, the need for the indigenous cultures to be in conversation with other cultures, particularly one characterized by Christian principles.

39. The globalized economy shamelessly damages human, social and cultural richness. The disintegration of families that comes about as a result of forced migrations affects the transmission of values, for “the family is and has always been the social institution that has most contributed to keeping our cultures alive.”

The centrality of the family is highlighted here.

41. . . .The Lord, who is the first to care for us, teaches us to care for our brothers and sisters and the environment which he daily gives us. This is the first ecology that we need.

In the Amazon region, one better understands the words of Benedict XVI. . . .

To be sure, believers have an obligation to be responsible stewards of creation. Here Francis brings to his side Benedict.

42. . . . the forest is not a resource to be exploited; it is a being, or various beings, with which we have to relate. . . . we are water, air, earth and life of the environment created by God. For this reason, we demand an end to the mistreatment and destruction of mother Earth. The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother Earth.

This is just pure silliness: The forest is a “being”? “We are water, air, earth and life”? Really? This is the very kind of nonsense that makes normal, serious Christians jittery around environmentalists.

47. Poetry helps give voice to a painful sensation shared by many of us today.

More high drama!

48. The equilibrium of our planet also depends on the health of the Amazon region. . . .

51. To protect the Amazon region, it is good to combine ancestral wisdom with contemporary technical knowledge, always working for a sustainable management of the land while also preserving the lifestyle and value systems of those who live there.

A very commonsensical approach.

58. . . . Sadly, many of those living in the Amazon region have acquired habits typical of the larger cities, where consumerism and the culture of waste are already deeply rooted. A sound and sustainable ecology, one capable of bringing about change, will not develop unless people are changed, unless they are encouraged to opt for another style of life, one less greedy and more serene, more respectful and less anxious, more fraternal.

Another welcome admission of Amazonian complicity in abandonment of wholesome indigenous views and practices, as well as encouragement for lifestyles that are more human.

Now begins the specifically ecclesial section of the exhortation.

63. An authentic option for the poor and the abandoned, while motivating us to liberate them from material poverty and to defend their rights, also involves inviting them to a friendship with the Lord that can elevate and dignify them. How sad it would be if they were to receive from us a body of teachings or a moral code, but not the great message of salvation, the missionary appeal that speaks to the heart and gives meaning to everything else in life. Nor can we be content with a social message. If we devote our lives to their service, to working for the justice and dignity that they deserve, we cannot conceal the fact that we do so because we see Christ in them and because we acknowledge the immense dignity that they have received from God, the Father who loves them with boundless love.

64. They have a right to hear the Gospel, and above all that first proclamation, the kerygma, which is “the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another.” . . . Without that impassioned proclamation, every ecclesial structure would become just another NGO and we would not follow the command given us by Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).

65. Any project for growth in the Christian life needs to be centred continually on this message, for “all Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma.” . . . Indeed, the kerygma and fraternal charity constitute the great synthesis of the whole content of the Gospel, to be proclaimed unceasingly in the Amazon region. That is what shaped the lives of the great evangelizers of Latin America, like Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo or Saint Joseph of Anchieta.

This is truly shocking material to come from the pen of Francis. After all, he consistently has conflated “evangelization” with “proselytism,” repeatedly dubbing the latter “solemn nonsense.” Of course, orthodox Catholics should welcome this papal encouragement to engage in the promotion of the Gospel, as taught by Paul VI and John Paul II. Many Catholic social service agencies in the United States need to take this admonition seriously as they shy away from any form of faith-sharing. Bishop Erwin Kräutler of the Amazon, who bragged that he had never baptized an indigenous person in over thirty years, would do well to meditate long and hard on these paragraphs.

67. Saint John Paul II taught that in proposing the Gospel message, “the Church does not intend to deny the autonomy of culture. On the contrary, she has the greatest respect for it,” since culture “is not only an object of redemption and elevation but can also play a role of mediation and cooperation.”

This is a very healthy understanding of the relationship between faith and cultures.

73. Inculturation elevates and fulfills.

This is exactly backwards! The faith purifies cultures, not the other way around!

74. Similarly, a relationship with Jesus Christ, true God and true man, liberator and redeemer, is not inimical to the markedly cosmic worldview that characterizes the indigenous peoples, since he is also the Risen Lord who permeates all things. In Christian experience, “all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation.” He is present in a glorious and mysterious way in the river, the trees, the fish and the wind, as the Lord who reigns in creation without ever losing his transfigured wounds, while in the Eucharist he takes up the elements of this world and confers on all things the meaning of the paschal gift.

The first part of this paragraph is in harmony with the Pauline theology of the recapitulation of all things in Christ. We move into weirdness, indeed, panentheism, when we read that Christ “is present in a glorious and mysterious way in the river, the trees, the fish and the wind.” This is totally absurd. I suspect that the papal theologian never saw this paragraph.

78. . . . Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples. Rather, we ought to know how to distinguish the wheat growing alongside the tares, for “popular piety can enable us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on.”

79. It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry.

Certainly, the Church throughout her history has appropriated various signs, symbols, feasts and vesture from various cultures and religions – traditionally called “the despoiling of the Egyptians.” We can think here likewise of the Patristic notion of the “logoi spermatikoi” (the seeds of the Word) that are a long-range, divinely planned preparation of a people for the Gospel (“praeparatio evangelica”). However, one must be careful to understand the original meanings of the appropriated items, leading one to ask if these can be incorporated into Christianity. This seems like nothing more than a ham-fisted attempt at justifying the whole Pachamama debacle. Might it also be a hint of movement toward an “Amazonian Rite”?

82. In the Eucharist, God, “in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter.” The Eucharist “joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.” For this reason, it can be a “motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.” In this sense, “encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature.” It means that we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols. The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines.

The first two sentences are clear Catholic doctrine. What follows is an unfortunate “instrumentalization” of the Eucharist. The Eucharist should never be “used” to serve any purpose other than the glory of God and the sanctification of men.

87. . . .. it is important to determine what is most specific to a priest, what cannot be delegated. The answer lies in the sacrament of Holy Orders, which configures him to Christ the priest. The first conclusion, then, is that the exclusive character received in Holy Orders qualifies the priest alone to preside at the Eucharist. That is his particular, principal and non-delegable function. There are those who think that what distinguishes the priest is power, the fact that he is the highest authority in the community. Yet Saint John Paul II explained that, although the priesthood is considered “hierarchical,” this function is not meant to be superior to the others, but rather is “totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members.” When the priest is said to be a sign of “Christ the head,” this refers principally to the fact that Christ is the source of all grace: he is the head of the Church because “he has the power of pouring out grace upon all the members of the Church.”

88. The priest is a sign of that head and wellspring of grace above all when he celebrates the Eucharist, the source and summit of the entire Christian life. That is his great power, a power that can only be received in the sacrament of Holy Orders. For this reason, only the priest can say: “This is my body.” There are other words too, that he alone can speak: “I absolve you from your sins.” Because sacramental forgiveness is at the service of a worthy celebration of the Eucharist. These two sacraments lie at the heart of the priest’s exclusive identity.

I am not sure what the first two sentences mean. What follows, however, is the perennial teaching of the Church on the Sacred Priesthood. Paragraph 88 must be directed to the Amazonian bishop who claimed that he has had women celebrating the Eucharist for years. Now, the question is: Will that bishop be disciplined for such permissions, if it has indeed been happening?

90. This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region. At the same time, it is appropriate that the structure and content of both initial and ongoing priestly formation be thoroughly revised, so that priests can acquire the attitudes and abilities demanded by dialogue with Amazonian cultures. This formation must be preeminently pastoral and favour the development of priestly mercy.

Prayer for vocations has worked for countless dioceses in the United States. Might it work for the Amazon, too? Local seminaries have always been preferred to far-distant ones, precisely so that future priests would be trained to understand the cultures they would be sent to evangelize and catechize.

92. . . . Priests are necessary, but this does not mean that permanent deacons (of whom there should be many more in the Amazon region), religious women and lay persons cannot regularly assume important responsibilities for the growth of communities, and perform those functions ever more effectively with the aid of a suitable accompaniment.

93. Consequently, it is not simply a question of facilitating a greater presence of ordained ministers who can celebrate the Eucharist. That would be a very narrow aim, were we not also to strive to awaken new life in communities. We need to promote an encounter with God’s word and growth in holiness through various kinds of lay service that call for a process of education – biblical, doctrinal, spiritual and practical – and a variety of programmes of ongoing formation.

94. A Church of Amazonian features requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority and familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one. . . . The challenges in the Amazon region demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity.

Readers of CWR will recall that I expressed amazement months ago about the paucity of permanent deacons in the Amazon. Of course, one could suppose that they have been deliberately kept at bay, so as to exacerbate the vocations crisis, so as to force the Church’s hand on the ordination of women and married men. The Pope’s appreciation for the lay vocation puts him squarely in the corner of Saint José Maria Escrivá, Vatican II’s “Apostolicam Actuositatem,” and John Paul II’s “Christifideles Laici.”

99. In the Amazon region, there are communities that have long preserved and handed on the faith even though no priest has come their way, even for decades. This could happen because of the presence of strong and generous women who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed and acted as missionaries. For centuries, women have kept the Church alive in those places through their remarkable devotion and deep faith. Some of them, speaking at the Synod, moved us profoundly by their testimony.

100. This summons us to broaden our vision, lest we restrict our understanding of the Church to her functional structures. Such a reductionism would lead us to believe that women would be granted a greater status and participation in the Church only if they were admitted to Holy Orders. But that approach would in fact narrow our vision; it would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective.

101. Jesus Christ appears as the Spouse of the community that celebrates the Eucharist through the figure of a man who presides as a sign of the one Priest. This dialogue between the Spouse and his Bride, which arises in adoration and sanctifies the community, should not trap us in partial conceptions of power in the Church. . . . Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother. . . . we will fundamentally realize why, without women, the Church breaks down, and how many communities in the Amazon would have collapsed, had women not been there to sustain them, keep them together and care for them. This shows the kind of power that is typically theirs.

102. We must keep encouraging those simple and straightforward gifts that enabled women in the Amazon region to play so active a role in society, even though communities now face many new and unprecedented threats. The present situation requires us to encourage the emergence of other forms of service and charisms that are proper to women and responsive to the specific needs of the peoples of the Amazon region at this moment in history.

103. In a synodal Church, those women who in fact have a central part to play in Amazonian communities should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs.

The entirety of this section, “The Strength and Gift of Women” is a succinct synthesis of John Paul’s “Mulieris Dignitatem.”

106. In an Amazonian region characterized by many religions, we believers need to find occasions to speak to one another and to act together for the common good and the promotion of the poor. This has nothing to do with watering down or concealing our deepest convictions when we encounter others who think differently than ourselves.

The key sentence here is: “This has nothing to do with watering down or concealing our deepest convictions when we encounter others who think differently than ourselves.”

107. We Catholics possess in sacred Scripture a treasure that other religions do not accept, even though at times they may read it with interest and even esteem some of its teachings. We attempt to do something similar with the sacred texts of other religions and religious communities, which contain “precepts and doctrines that… often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.” We also possess a great treasure in the seven sacraments, which some Christian communities do not accept in their totality or in the same sense. At the same time that we believe firmly in Jesus as the sole Redeemer of the world, we cultivate a deep devotion to his Mother. Even though we know that this is not the case with all Christian confessions, we feel it our duty to share with the Amazon region the treasure of that warm, maternal love which we ourselves have received. In fact, I will conclude this Exhortation with a few words addressed to Mary.

This is a fine re-statement of Catholic “particulars” or the uniqueness of Catholic life. Here we find an expression that has popped up before in the exhortation (and will do so again in paragraph 109): “Jesus as the sole Redeemer of the world.” This must have gladdened the heart of Pope Benedict who, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, promulgated (with John Paul’s explicit approval) “Dominus Iesus,” stressing this very point and for which he was pilloried in the left-wing Catholic press.

108. None of this needs to create enmity between us. In a true spirit of dialogue, we grow in our ability to grasp the significance of what others say and do, even if we cannot accept it as our own conviction. In this way, it becomes possible to be frank and open about our beliefs, while continuing to discuss, to seek points of contact, and above all, to work and struggle together for the good of the Amazon region. The strength of what unites all of us as Christians is supremely important. We can be so attentive to what divides us that at times we no longer appreciate or value what unites us. And what unites us is what lets us remain in this world without being swallowed up by its immanence, its spiritual emptiness, its complacent selfishness, its consumerist and self-destructive individualism.

If our unique Catholic identity proclaimed in paragraph 107 is taken seriously, we do not need to fear a statement like: “The strength of what unites all of us as Christians is supremely important.”

So, where does this document leave us?

First, I would once more offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit for preserving the Church from further confusion and error.

Second, is this a perfect document? By no means, however, when even Rorate Caeli offers muted praise for it and when heretofore papal cheerleaders of the Left have donned their widow’s weeds, simple and loyal sons and daughters of the Church ought to rejoice.

Third, should this exhortation be seen as a “turning point” for this pontificate? The adage calls us to moderate our expectations: “One swallow does not a summer make.” That said, history would remind us that Pius IX began his pontificate as a “liberal”; he ended it being considered nothing but a reactionary!

Fourth, for many of us, the past six years have been one long descent into the darkness. Might the prayers we have offered incessantly that this document would not further that descent give us the confidence to pray that this might be but the first of many future steps into the light?

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 277 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.


  1. It seems to me that there is a lesson to be learned here. Many people behaved very badly before and during this synod, assuring everyone that the Church is collapsing, the sky is falling, making all sorts of predictions that did not come to pass–instead of trusting that it is the Holy Spirit who is in charge of things, not those perceived to be scheming and plotting to change Church teaching. I am hoping that, unlike the same ole talking heads on CNN and MSNBC who year after year make predictions with a high level of confidence despite their very poor track record, those who write such articles here will use this opportunity to begin speaking and writing with much less confidence and self-assurance. Given the opening paragraph above, however, I think this is a case of wishful thinking on my part.

    • You are correct Deacon D because while devout Catholics ARE relieved,there is every reason to believe that Pope Francis is up to no good. My guess is he knew all hell would break lose if he interfered with our catholic treasure- priestly celibacy. Hang tight! he has something much worse for us up ahead. Please do not give him the benefit of the doubt. No Pope has deserved it less in my lifetime of seven Popes.

        • No, we get it Deacon. Two steps forward, one step back. We still have the promotion of the homosexualist cult in the Vatican, the destruction of the FFI, the destruction of the JPII Institute, the disastrous episcopal appointments, the endless stream of mockery, insults, and gibberish. In this document, Christ has shown that He still protects His Church. That is all. We are wise to be wary.

        • So sorry, deacon, its you who does not get it. We are sick to vomiting of this pope’s double talking vague Jesuit-speak. And that skepticism will not change soon just because this document is silent on certain points.
          I hope these two issues do go away. But likely not. The pope’s henchmen have just put them on the back burner for a better time. They play the long game.
          It’s sick that this Vatican has forced us to think this way but we follow the pope’s actions, not his words.

    • Sure, a Synod that doesn’t express a moment of concern, before, during, or, now, after, the practice of burying children alive in that perfect utopia of the Amazon. Nothing to be upset about. Move along. Like Church prelates have been telling the world that Catholic pro-lifers are just fanatics in the same way that secularists trivialize our concerns. Let’s not get too upset about great evils whenever prelates choose to ignore them.
      Nonetheless, what level of incomprehensibility is necessary to be reassured that “no one is trying to change anything” given the reality of a pope who also describes real concern for the unborn as an obsession, a self-admitted process theologian, who denies that truth is immutable, an admitted moral relativist, one who doubts the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and one who doesn’t object to being quoted as disbelieving in the eternal divinity of Christ?
      Why be so reassured by a pope who has said about his mission for the Church in Evangelii Gaudium, Ch, 27: “I dream of a missionary impulse capable of transforming ‘everything’ so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than her self-preservation.”
      Former Vatican spokesman Fr. Thomas Rosica has said: “Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is free from “disordered attachments.” Our church has entered into a new phase with the advent of this first Jesuit Pope. It is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.”

      • Edward: You see, this is the heart of the problem. You believe sources like Rosica, who claims that Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is free from disordered attachments. What an utterly stupid thing to say! And you believed it. As you believe the reports that he’s a relativist who denies truth is immutable, etc. Truth as I currently see it is not immutable, but truth in itself is immutable. The former is criteriological, the latter is definitional. It’s a basic distinction he’s familiar with. You need to be more skeptical of your sources. When you get Pope Francis filtered through people who have an agenda, you are not getting Pope Francis. You have to be very careful of your sources, how they are interpreting Francis, how plausible is the interpretation given the information they are lacking, etc. People are making all sorts of inferences on the basis of information that is assumed to be 100% accurate. Very rarely is it accurate, and almost always is it incomplete. Best to get your understanding of Francis from Francis himself, from his writings and his talks, addresses, etc.,. Then you’ll begin to detect the inconsistencies in many of the claims made about him. I think your approach has been, I dare say, sinfully lazy, arrogant, and presumptuous.

        • Your approach to my comments is sinfully lazy, arrogant, and presumptuous. I did quote Francis directly, independent of adding appropriate comments from how he is justly perceived from his numerous public comments from one man AS AN EXAMPLE. Is this too much to comprehend? It is Francis who has characterized fidelity to Catholic moral doctrine in “today’s world” as a “disordered attachment”, to use HIS own words. And Francis has indicated on many occasions that he is a Kasperian process theologian who believes that God is involved in LEARNING through history, an unambiguous rejection of the omniscient nature of God. Francis has also said on many occasions that moral truth changes over time. And Francis has made it clear, with his repetitive references in AL to “complex circumstances” that there are no transgressions of the moral law that an individual cannot “discern” as being the best of what God requires of him at a given time. Your statement that, “truth as I currently see it is not immutable, but truth in itself is immutable. The former is criteriological, the latter is definitional” is epistemological sophistry of a childish nature, an atheistic way of denying propositional truth.

          • Absolute nonsense! I would be happy to debate you on this. Of course, you would have to begin to providing the evidence for your claims, not just hearsay evidence, but actual texts. I am quite positive that you would not be able to support your claims, which are outrageous claims, with textual evidence. Moreover, you’d have to be open to having your position refuted, which will be very easy to accomplish. Somehow I think you are just stuck in your ways and are too emotionally invested in the conclusions you’ve settle upon to really look into it. But in case I’m wrong, my email is available online.

          • Excellent response. Either certain truths are immutable in any circumstance are no truth is immutable. The latter position is a denial of revelation and heretical.

          • Father Peter: This either/or is just false. It is completely ahistorical. It depends on what level of abstraction we are working on. No doubt, on the 2nd level of abstraction, truth is immutable. But for the most part, we don’t operate on these levels of abstraction. The proposition “God is calling you to teach senior high school students calculus” is mutable. It was true at a certain time and place, but no longer. Or, consider our best estimate at what is true in terms of Lewis structures. The model was useful, it worked, we were convinced of its “truth”–everywhere we found corroborating evidence. But then, new data threw a wrench in the whole thing. Ozone (O3) can be drawn as a cyclic structure with perfect modelling to the Lewis concepts, yet molecular spectroscopy data demonstrates that the structure is not cyclical, but linear with formal charges on two of the oxygens giving a resonance hybrid. It is necessary to continuously verify structures using experimental data. This illustrates the limitations in a conceptual scheme for the understanding of molecular compounds. Another example, Sulphur trioxide can be drawn in a resonance hybrid format (two oxygen Sulphur singly bonded, one double bond), yet bond length data illustrates that the bond is shorter than that illustrated by the resonance hybrid. A better structure sees all Sulphur oxygen bonds as doubly bonded (expansion of the octet rule). This is not the best fit, but is better than the resonance hybrid form. The Lewis conception of bonding fails and as a result must be extended to account for expansion of the octet, resonance hybrids, etc., in order for the conceptual scheme to fit experimental data. To further enhance an understanding of the experimental data, wave mechanics can be used to predict and verify structures. For example, oxygen is paramagnetic, yet Lewis structures are unable to show an unpaired electron on the oxygen molecule. Molecular orbital theory illustrates both the double bond between the oxygens, also shown by Lewis structures, but also demonstrates the unpaired electron on the molecule. Using these or other such examples you can come up with, we can reflect upon the relationship between a useful model that attempts to explain and the reality we are trying to explain. Reality seems to exceed the model, which moves us to imagine ways to revise the model. “Truth” as we currently see it is an every day phenomenon. Truth as it is in itself is certainly immutable, but it is not always so easy to know when we have in our possession the complete truth. New data seems to upset matters on a continuing basis. If you abstract from time, the limits of human intelligence, sense perception, empirical data or rational data drawn from experience, etc., and consider very simple general truths, such as 2 + 2 = 4, then truth is immutable. But unfortunately determining what is true is rarely so simple. Moreover, you should be careful about labelling things you don’t understand as “heretical”. The minority bishops at Vatican I were labelled “heterodox”, “heretical”, “unfaithful”, etc., and yet 100 years later their minority positions became the majority positions at Vatican II. Even the Church’s understanding of what is “true” progresses, grows as a result of new data, richer experiences, dialogue, etc. Look back at your own life and take note of how much your “worldview” has changed over the years, since adolescence.

        • Deacon I’ll respond here to your thoughtful kindly couched response. In the main I agree there are conditions that affect our perception of truth. Taken from our human perspective as assessed by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia on D&R mitigating conditions affect conscience and judgment. Were compassion, merciful judgment prioritized from us we could, at least myself easily condone the sacrament. Marriage if indissoluble as Christ repeats in the Gospels nonetheless is one of those revealed truths that places that priority with Him who institutes the sacrament. Here 2+2 cannot equal 5 as Fr Spadaro suggests in defense of communion for the divorced and remarried. Christ would not have instituted it as such, indissoluble if it could not be practiced. What is missing in Amoris Laetitia is the gift of grace. There are other acts in which conditions fall under the pattern of argument you give. Stealing for example is willfully taking from another sans their permission. If conditions were such that a person without means were to take from the surplus of another without their knowledge or causing harm such as needed nourishment [taking from an orchard and the like] that is not stealing. The conditions change in lieu of the principle of the common good. That the abundance of nature belongs in a real sense to all and is realized when there is serious need. Belief in Christ’s message when pronounced is another immutable preceptive truth. Here prevenient grace is provided to which there is serious obligation. There is no equanimity of religions as the Pontiff agreed at Abu Dhabi. Again thanks for your response.

          • As a physicist, I find the tedious point made by D. McManaman about changing perceptions regarding the objective nature of the physical universe having no bearing at all on questions related to objective truths about morality and the natural law for which God never denies us adequate knowledge for living a life of fidelity to this moral law. The scientific method accepts contingent “knowledge,” which is not the same as grace provided knowledge of right and wrong. Human frailty and mitigation of culpability for numerous reasons has always been understood and accepted in the faith. But, as you suggest Father, in AL an understanding of grace for forsaking desires is lacking. And no pope has been more overt about this in the history of the Church. In AL there is too much of what secular liberals have been prescribing to remedy difficult and “complex circumstances,” a term Francis undeniably uses repeatedly, remaining oblivious to such things as the cost to damaged first families caused by wanting to “mercifully” ameliorate the guilt of those pursuing second “marriages.”

          • Man’s theories of the transient world conceptual in character change as we learn to identify what better explains the physical. Sense perception is that first principle of our knowledge of existence from which we infer the principles of physics and that which transcends it. Knowledge of transcendent principles of existence and the laws of human nature called Natural Law. Analogy of moral law to transient matter is helpful in instances though partial, since permanence is characteristic of moral behavior. He who institutes sacraments and moral law is himself First Principle perfect and unchangeable in his essence. We the three of us seeking truth are called not to what is transient in nature rather by the gift of grace of the Holy Spirit to that perfection of holiness revealed to us in Christ.

          • I’m going to address both of you in this single reply. What Francis points out in the famous footnote of AL was not at all new. Talk to any Canon Lawyer who works on a Marriage Tribunal, who judges cases on a team of 3, and they will tell you that some cases are easy, but some are very difficult, and some cases are resolved on a 2:1 ratio (and the one outvoted just has to humbly accept the majority decision–and after reviewing the reasons given will often conclude that yes, they were right, etc). For those on the outside, unfamiliar with this process–and it is a process–, they tend to have a difficult time appreciating the subtleties of these matters. Unlike the ones who work as judges on a tribunal, they have not encountered such intricate and difficult cases, that is, cases that are murky, certainly not black and white, and permeated with uncertainty. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is. We see this in other areas as well, such as politics. A view from the “inside” is very different than a view from the “outside”. And unfortunately many people on the outside are too arrogant to acknowledge their own deficiency of information and will then proceed to dogmatically spout off on all sorts of issues they know very little about (just think of Trump derangement syndrome).

            I appreciate your faithfulness to the gospel, Father. But the fact that you set yourself up as a judge overlooking a papal encyclical written by a person who probably has (I’m not sure) far more experience than you have–since he has the experience of having been a bishop, then an Archbishop, then a Cardinal, and now a Pope–strikes me as presumptuous and, sorry to say, arrogant. Of course he does not overlook the gift of grace. He’s no idiot. And he does not say that all religions are equal. You’ve adopted a posture that keeps you from really learning something from your Holy Father. Drop this idea that you are so brilliant that the Pope could really learn some of the basics of morality and theology from you. He’s been there and done that. You’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Turn it around and see the great gift that the Holy Spirit has given to the Church in this Pope.

            As for you, Mr. Physicist Edward Baker, if you have a background in science, then you should be familiar with the very logic of the scientific method and how that logic underpins our day to day reasoning. Morality does not escape this logic, much less biblical exegesis. All knowledge begins in sense perception. As Aristotle points out, nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses. Moral reasoning follows much the same law of complementarity: the more universal or general the discourse, the greater the certainty, but as we move to greater precision, vulnerability to error increases. Just pick up a volume of Grisez’s Difficult Moral Questions and you’ll get the point. That volume was the product of years and years of thinking about principles and their application to specific moral problems that have arisen as a result of new circumstances. And these thinkers (Grisez, Boyle, Finnis, etc) have, over the years, changed their position on certain issues, thanks to more thought, dialogue, discussion, etc. We see the same inductive/investigative process in the area of biblical exegesis as well. With new historical data, what was once thought to be the case is now relegated to a lower level of plausibility and a more plausible hypothesis takes top spot. There’s no room for dogmatism here. What appears to be the “truth” at one time is eventually discovered to be a rather deficient position, or a position in need of further distinction. Pope Francis is well aware of the fundamentals of ethics. Again, he’s no idiot and probably does not need a lesson in basic philosophy from you. I find your condescending arrogance towards the Holy Father offensive and maddening, and there are many writers, like the author of this article above, who feed into and nurture such a mindset. Have some humility; listen to this universal pastor of yours with a more open and humble disposition, and tame your loose tongue with all its accusations that Francis is some process theologian, moral relativist, heretic, etc.. This short video here is a fine example of the attitude you should cultivate with respect to your Pope:


  2. Fr Stravinskas gives us a scholarly orthodox assessment of Pope Francis’ I Have a Dream exhortation. Beautifully written by the Pontiff with obvious well studied contributions. Key to overall interpretation: 73. Inculturation elevates and fulfills. “This is exactly backwards! The faith purifies cultures, not the other way around!” (Stravinskas). If not in accuracy in style it mirrors Amoris leaving us with the dreaded Final Document to agonizingly ponder as with footnote 351. Since it was often the priests who protected the indigenous peoples from their plunderers and abusers, the missionaries recounted that they begged insistently that we not abandon them and they extorted from us the promise that we would return (Querida 18). This is a wonderful testament to our heroic missionary legacy mainly Jesuit accounted for in Portuguese and Spaniard historical record. The heart of the Amazonia story is similar to Catholic missions elsewhere abandoned during past decades due to a commonly held idea, lamented by Benedict XVI, that a truth narrow in scope salvation outside the Church become conflated beyond reasonable proportion. Priests simply gave up the previously burning desire of missionaries like Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf. “Many, it is true, gladly worship the God whom we preach; but when opportunity for their old superstitions arises, they scarcely abstain therefrom. Among other things that move them, they are frightened by the torment of hell; and, enticed by the joys of paradise, they open their eyes to the light of truth. Since we came here, two years ago, we have baptized more than 60” (Jean de Brebeuf letter to Jesuit Superior General). A far cry from the Amazonian bishop who boasted of his refusal to convert and the general loss of faith belief in an eternal hell v heaven among our priests. Francis did well to call for bishops worldwide to send priests to the region. The fire that had once inspired priests must also be reignited.

  3. Thank you for continuing to be the teacher that you are to help your simple, less educated children understand papal documents and hear the truth from someone we can trust. This is good news. I never doubted that the Holy Spirit was in charge here but it is good to have that confirmed once again. Praise be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

    • It seems that nobody is aware of this diabolical deceit. How many times this argentinian pope has told orthodox statements and at the end we see horrific heresies.

  4. Thank you Fr. Peter for all your work and articles. One thing i like to add in addition to your “Where in the world have the bishops of the Amazon been for the past 500 years that such a document was even thought necessary?”, how come they forgot about what the missionaries of the past did and now they can not do their job without being married, etc.. Just to ease their “whatever” do we also have to give them credit cards, transportation, benefits,….?

    May God bless you.

  5. God bless Fr Stravinskas. But really, the comparison of QA with Humanae Vitae should strike even more fear into the heart of any devout Christian. Paul6 wrote the truth about the Pill, but he really didn’t believe it, because he refused to enforce his own rule. Good grief, after HV, 75 to 80% of Catholic couples were using the Pill; would it be much higher today if HV had never been written? Unlike Paul6, Francis is not given to “conflict avoidance”, and unlike Paul6, Francis has the courage of his convictions, but operates very much by subterfuge. Give Francis and his henchmen a few more years, and imagine what will be left of the Roman Catholic Church. Look at China! It’s hard to believe why any devout Catholic now, after AL or China or the McCarrick affair or the dubia or the sacking of Mueller, would study and take Pope Francis at his word.

  6. God bless you Fr Stravinskas, thank you. Just glad that we were granted holy Missionary-, Bishop-. Pope=Martyrs when Europe was evangelized; or they would still be worshipping the oak trees and Saint Boniface wouldn’t have to be struck down by the sword by nature worshippers.

  7. Deacon McManaman: (There was no reply button to your last reply)
    I wasn’t at all impressed with your link reference. I find Bishop Barron to be obsequious towards those who are underserving, and there are many who are overly impressed with him as an apologist. I don’t doubt that Francis says many right things on occasion, but you are wrong to be making the assumption that anyone takes joy at the massive amount of accumulating evidence of Francis’ episodes of vanity suggesting the clouding of his theological judgment and the consequences this has for the Church and the world.
    Your patronizing arguments about parallels between science and theology are inappropriate and personally insulting in your manner of addressing me. I know full well that scientific knowledge is contingent upon discovery and that beliefs change. But reality never changes. The facts about the physical universe never change, properly ascertained over time or place or not.
    Theology, especially moral theology, does not work the same way, because theology is always tainted by the sin of pride, although vanity and junk science obviously exists in science as well.
    It is impossible for theology to not be affected by the sins of pride. All theologians are sinners. All theologians, like every other sinner, has his thought processes tainted by his sins and his denial of his sins and his desire to find ways to help other sinners deny their sins. It is impossible for it to be otherwise.
    Combine this undeniable reality with the fact that moral truth can not change because God can not be an idiot. In fact, all of philosophy and theology can be reduced to the fact that there are only two philosophies. Everything else is derivative. Either God is a fool or we are. Were it the first, truth would be meaningless and always in flux. Since it actually is the latter, it is for this reason that we fail to see or refuse to see that God did not and could not abandon us to a capricious understanding of how we ought to order our lives together. There are principles of natural law that are innately true, not because they achieve consensus of “rethinking” among committees of academics, cultural acceptance, or enshrinement in statutory law, but are true because they are inherent to being a decent human being. They are not a mystery.
    I’ve read much of the work of all major moral theologians including those you cited. Many theologians in the past half century and longer have pursued more sophistry than truth. It is true that the application of valid moral principles always needs revision in the sense of expansion, not in the sense of diminishment. Applying Thou Shall Not Kill needs to be discussed when there are new and complicated and remotely disconnected means of affecting killing and rending ancillary support, but the truth of the matter does not change.
    Francis does not have a well-trained theological mind, and he is not humble enough to sense it. He has a serious pride problem, and so do those who have a stubborn refusal to consider the possibility given a man, who after being truthfully exposed as an enabler of a sex abuser by a truly humble Archbishop in his service could respond with no greater humility than to equate himself with Christ and the prophetic witness with Satan, not to mention the occasion of his actually interrupting a Mass to redress the Cardinal celebrant who was investigating another abuser Francis desired to protect.
    It is clear that you haven’t given a fair hearing to the tens of thousands of sober voices of concerned clergy, prelates, and scholars honestly concerned for Francis’ fidelity, culpable or not. But if you think hundreds of sleepless nights in prayerful agony over the state of the Church under this pontificate is a case of smug joy by a Francis detractor, you are sadly mistaken.

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