Is the Synod on Synodality actually the Amazon Synod, Part 2?

The repeated idea that the several ongoing synodal ways within the Church are true means to listen to the Holy Spirit gives one the impression that new ideas and new proposals are being heard by Catholics for the first time.

Pope Francis attends a prayer service at the start of the first session Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 7, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

In his recent article published in America magazine, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy states that the answer to the question “what paths is the church being called to take in the coming decades?”, should be found in the synodal way already on course within the universal Church.

The cardinal quotes from “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent”, the document produced “to capture the voices of men and women from around the world who have participated in the synodal process”, issued last year by the Holy See. The conclusion of the document, says McElroy, is that “the vision of a church capable of radical inclusion, shared belonging and deep hospitality according to the teachings of Jesus is at the heart of the synodal process.”

The German Synodal Way, which began even before the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality of the Holy See, has already proposed radical changes in moral theology, especially regarding homosexuality; the establishment of a lay permanent council to oversee the bishops; the end of priestly celibacy; and the ordination of women; as ways of attaining this “radical inclusion”.

Marred by controversy, the German Synodal Way is not mentioned in Cardinal McElroy’s article. Instead, he looks to the Amazon Synod of 2019, which also discussed the ordination of married men in the Roman rite, as well as women to the priesthood, and even the creation of an “Amazon rite,” which would heavily incorporate elements of pagan celebrations.

“At the Synod on the Amazon in 2019, the bishops of the Amazon region in prayer and discernment overwhelmingly supported this pathway, stating that it would be an enormous grace for their local churches that are so desperately short of priests”, writes McElroy.

The repeated idea that the several ongoing synodal ways within the Church are true means to listen to the Holy Spirit gives one the impression that new ideas and new proposals are being heard by Catholics for the first time.

But notions of a lay-run, politically-oriented Church with little room for the concept of personal sin and God’s salvation have been around for a long time, the staple ideas of theologians and activists of “justice-and-peace communities”, as Cardinal McElroy identifies the progressive side of “the schism so often present” in the Church today.

In fact, it is not a surprise that the Amazon region has been the place to inaugurate the kind of “listening process” that seems now a regular feature of the Church.

An enormous region comprising the biggest river basin in the world, the most iconic rainforest on the planet, a poor population, and some 180 indigenous nations was the perfect background for advancing the progressive agenda.

There was little about the Amazon region itself in the synod. “The Amazon, also called Panamazonia, is a vast territory with an estimated population of 33.6 million inhabitants, of whom between 2 and 2.5 million are indigenous. The area of the Amazon River basin and all its tributaries spreads over 9 countries: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana”, says the final document of the synod, titled “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology”.

Of the non-indigenous inhabitants of the Amazon, 68% live in cities. There is poverty, violence, and a dramatic scarcity of priests, as the document points out. But it forgets to mention that this is the reality of virtually any region in Latin America.

But unlike other regions, the Amazon, as a forest and a river, has the most suitable public image to promote the rather ambiguous concept of “integral ecology”.

The expression is repeatedly used by Pope Francis, but the idea can be traced back to Leonardo Boff, a former Brazilian Franciscan priest and a leading voice in Liberation Theology, once dominant in Latin America.

In his book Ecology, Mundialization, Spirituality, Boff wrote: “The ecological question leads to a new level of global conscience: the importance of the Earth as a whole, the common good of people, societies, and the ensemble of natural beings, the apocalyptic risk that weighs over every created (sic). The human being can be a guardian angel or Satan of the Earth. The Earth bleeds, especially in its most singular being, the oppressed, the marginalized, the excluded (…). From them we must think of the universal balance and the new ecological world order”.

The year when he wrote this was 1994. The Berlin Wall had collapsed three years before, making clear the horror of the socialist rule over half the world. Boff, and with him, Liberation Theology, had found in “ecology” the perfect substitute for the discredited Socialism.

The ideas, though, were pretty much the same. Boff, who claims to be the inspiration behind the papal encyclical Laudato Si, is also the author of Church: Charism and Power, a book that in 1985 was condemned as contrary to the teachings of the Church by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The book would lead to a doctrinal process that ended up with Boff leaving his religious order and the priesthood.

In the book, Boff says that the “theology of captivity and liberation” was instrumental in “several practices of many churches of the periphery, in their commitment in the defend human rights, especially of the poor, in denouncing the violence of the Capitalist and Neo-Capitalist systems, in the constitution of ecclesial communities where the People expresses, feeds end articulates its faith with the realities that oppress them”.

In such a politically-oriented Church, Boff argues that the meaning of “bishop”, “presbyter” and “deacon” in the New Testament, “does not refer to the sacred, but to the service of vigilance and conduction, of assistance”. In other words, they are meant to be at the service of politics and political transformation, next to, if not behind, lay leaders.

This same reasoning regarding the ordained hierarchy in the Church is surprisingly similar in the final document of the Amazon Synod when it states: “In order to walk together, the Church today needs a conversion to the synodal experience. It needs to strengthen a culture of dialogue, reciprocal listening, spiritual discernment, consensus and communion in order to find areas and ways of joint decision-making and to respond to pastoral challenges. In this way, co-responsibility in the life of the Church will be fostered in a spirit of service. It is urgent to go forward to make proposals and take on responsibilities to overcome clericalism and arbitrary impositions.”

Since the aim of progressives in the Church has moved away from salvation as traditionally understood, it is not difficult to move morality away from its traditional framework. The Peruvian Dominican priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founders of Liberation Theology, wrote in 1972: “It is not about sin, in the liberating perspective, as an individual, private and intimist reality… in need of a ‘spiritual’ redemption”.

For Gutiérrez, sin is “a social, historical fact” taking place in “oppressive structures; in the exploitation of man by man; in the dominion and slavery of peoples, races and social classes.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Liberation Theology was dominant in Latin America. In Brazil, it was instrumental in the creation of the Workers’ Party (PT, in the Portuguese acronym).

In fact, in the final years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985) in the country, a metal workers union leader, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, counted on the support of the bishop of São Bernardo, an industrial city in the outskirts of São Paulo, to organize the first strike since the coup. Thus began the career of Lula, now in his third term as president.

The bishop of São Bernardo then was the late Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the man purportedly responsible for cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio choosing “Francis” as his name after his election as pope. Hummes was one of the strongest proponents of the ordination of married men reflected in the final document of the Amazon Synod.

Contrary to the recurrent narrative, the Amazon Synod did not bring any innovative ideas allegedly inspired by the Holy Spirit amongst a listening community. It simply rehashed and revived the old ideas of a theology of liberation that for Latin America had already been settled by Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis, in the apostolic exhortation Querida Amazônia (“Beloved Amazon”), did not accept most of the old, far-fetched ideas such as the ordination of women and married men. But the archbishop of Manaus, Leonardo Steiner, said in an interview that the discussion was not closed and that the end of priestly celibacy will eventually become a reality. Steiner was created a Cardinal at the same consistory as Bishop McElroy.

There will undoubtedly be much more talk about “radical inclusion” and the importance of “the synodal process” in the months to come, leading up to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops this October. Will the bishops look at recent synods and see the patterns used by those pushing for radical changes in the Church? Will they notice how so many of the most vocal proponents of the current Synod continue to advocate agendas contrary to the doctrine of the Church? And will they take necessary steps to keep this Synod from becoming the Amazon Synod, Part 2?

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About Marcelo Musa Cavallari 1 Article
Marcelo Musa Cavallari, born in São Paulo in 1960, is the Editor-in-Chief of ACI Digital, the Association of Catholic Information Digital, the Brazilian-based Catholic news agency in Portuguese. Formerly a writer with Folha de S. Paulo newspaper and Época magazine, he is also an author and the translator of several classic Christian works


  1. Amazonia, in literary jargon The Amazonia Connection is fairly well known, though it’s good to learn more, for example the Leonardo Steiner link from someone who is a resident insider of the Church phenomenon. Pachamama the symbol, although various secular ecological groups had used the Pachamama name. Goddess of the Andes, a reborn Gaia, Mother Earth. And effeminization.
    Linear interconnectedness is apparent from Amazonia 1 to Synodaler Weg, to the great papal handholding walktogether listening to spirits aloft Synod on Synodality. A Church gazing skyward for a new liberating epiphany. Cavallari’s Amazonia 2.
    Much of what is recovered from Liberation Theology has truth, consequently value if we were to be honest rather than fearful of unorthodoxy. Father Gutiérrez wasn’t entirely off the mark. Class pride and prejudice is a reality especially in S America. It’s sinful. John Paul II was correct in oppressing a movement that transformed sin into a cultural ideology. His deficit was not to recognize and effectively address the actual sin that caused so much harm to the authentic expression of the faith, the outcome today’s Catholic Church diminishment and the turn to Evangelism.
    Catholicism in its essential nature cannot survive the Amazonia effect, synonymous to the Francis effect. It’s not the form of our religion that matters in the end, rather it’s the quality of our spirituality insofar as it is centered on Christ.

  2. When ex-President Theodore Roosevelt ventured into the Amazon Basin in 1913-1914, he remarked that “this is my last chance to be a boy.” Had he said, “to be a pre-adolescent” he could have qualified as a trendy cleric for the Amazon Synod and now Amazon 2. Doubly so, since he went to explore “the River of Doubt.”

    So, today, within what used to be the Church, we have the riverine fluidity of a synodal “endless journey” of doubt…channeling a river (!) so to speak.

    “The German Synodal Way [….] has already proposed radical changes in moral theology, especially regarding homosexuality; the establishment of a lay permanent council to oversee the bishops; the end of priestly celibacy; and the ordination of women; as ways of attaining this ‘radical inclusion.’” All of this is so very infantile. A block party. A jam session. A frat house orgy. It no longer has anything to do with theology or ecclesiology. Batzing, McElroy & Co., court jesters, one and all.

    Where are the adults in the room?

  3. This should be titled “The Synod to Destroy the Catholic Church,” which is not the democracy some would wish. Keep in mind Cardinal Josef Ratzinger’s statement before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, “Truth is not determined by a majority vote.” Our truth comes from Jesus Christ and is immutable, period.

  4. The Church IS in the world, but not OF the world. Accommodation to “isms” is an isn’t. We are pilgrims in a foreign land without green cards and not seeking them.

  5. The issue of compulsory priestly celibacy does not rise to the level of dogma. In fact this discipline arose in a complex historical Western European cultural history and is distinct from both the explicit teaching
    (see Paul on his freedom to marry ) and the example ( Peter, a married man ) of the Apostles. Jesus did not teach or require celibacy of any of His followers for which reason neither the Eastern Orthodox Churches nor the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches teach or require it as a condition for priestly ordination. One may be a quite orthodox and faithful Catholic while being quite accepting of the coincidence of both marriage and holy orders. To suggest that this view is somehow indicative of a heretical or an anti-evangelical agenda is completely false, contrary to Scripture and insulting towards the unbroken Tradition of Eastern Catholicism from which we can learn much.

    • That priestly celibacy is not doctrinal is well known and not in dispute. Although the merits of single-hearted commitment to the priesthood is strongly defended for both theological and practical reasons.

      The heretical notions now in play are female ordination, and a male ordination that is temporary rather than permanent–probably the counterpart to proposed dissoluble marriages (access to the Eucharist for those in “irregular” situations), also on the wish list ever since the plasticity of Amoris Laetitia (Ch. 8, fn. 352).

  6. The Synod on Synodality is simply yet another sneaky way to change doctrine. This is their Vatican III, which they have wanted for so long. EVERYTHING is up for grabs. This is a false attempt to hold a council which will make pronouncements that will overturn doctrine without calling a Council. This is devious and underhanded and is definitely from the Devil. Pope Francis is definitely the pope, but it is an open question who he is serving.

  7. The comically-named (the appropriately comically-named) “Synod on Synodality” is the theatrical event by which the demolition of anything resembling patriarchy, having been effected fully outside the Church, is brought into it.

  8. From the middle ages of debate, my Church is being held to task on priestly celibacy.

    Aleteia logo…
    Most scripture scholars say that it was likely Peter was a widower when he met Jesus.

    Catholic answers…
    “the Bible encourages, but does not demand celibacy of priests/church leaders.” Paul commands that “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2).
    Genesis: › Genesis 9:7 God said be fruitful and multiply.

    A self-defeating prophecy? Mythology mix? What more can be said?

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