The recent Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region in Rome (commonly referred to as the Amazon synod) raised issues affecting nine countries bordering the Amazon. The synod, which has no decision-making role, makes recommendations to the Pope. There were 185 voting members – all male – yet there was general agreement that the issues raised by the inputting groups, mainly female, were adopted and acknowledged accordingly.
Ordaining women deacons was one such issue, as was ordaining ‘proven married men’ – viri probati – to the priesthood. Another major issue was the environment, with synod bishops (from the Amazon and other parts of the world) defining ‘ecological sin’ and calling for the Church not to invest in extraction companies that harm the earth.
They described ecological sin as: “An action or omission against God, against others, the community and the environment … It is a sin against future generations and manifests itself in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the environmental harmony, transgressions against the principles of interdependence and the breaking of solidarity networks among creatures and against the virtue of justice.”
Pope Francis referred to the plundering of the rainforest, saying it was ‘inflicting wounds on our brothers and sisters and on our sister earth’. “In this synod we have had the grace of listening to the voices of the poor and reflecting on the precariousness of their lives, threatened by predatory models of development….”
He continued: “Many have testified to us that it is possible to look at reality in a different way, accepting it with open arms as a gift, treating the created world not as a resource to be exploited but as a home to be preserved.”
The bishops also suggested that a global fund be set up to repair the ‘ecological debt’ that other countries have incurred with the Amazon.
The Amazon region has a serious shortage of priests, hence the need for a new look at ministry. The Catholic Church accepts that the Eucharist is the ‘summit and source’ of Christian life, yet large communities in the region are being deprived of the Eucharist because of a shortage of priests. Pope Francis has also promised to reopen the Commission of Women Deacons in an effort to deal with women in ministry. The synod bishops said that it was ‘urgent… to promote and confer ministries for men and women in an equitable manner’.
In today’s Church, women do not have a decision-making role, yet “in the absence of priests in the community, the Bishop may entrust, for a specific period of time, the exercise of pastoral care of the community to a person not invested with the priestly character who is a member of the community … The Bishop may constitute this ministry on behalf of the Christian community with an official mandate through a ritual act so that the person responsible for the community may also be recognised at the civil and local levels.” One wonders what any bishop is afraid of!
At the conclusion of the synod, the Pope warned about the ongoing criticism from conservative elements within the Catholic Church by saying “the root of every spiritual error … is believing ourselves to be righteous. We, all of us, are in need of salvation. To consider ourselves righteous is to leave God, the only righteous one, out in the cold.”
The conservative elements are putting every obstacle in the Pope’s way, by withdrawing funding for projects and openly criticising what the Pope is doing. Is their little world under that much threat?
Most churchgoers support a married clergy. Celibacy is a Church law, not a doctrine. This is the first time since the 12th century (celibacy was introduced in 1123) that the Church has accepted that providing communities with the sacraments is more important than observing a Church rule.
This is a welcome major step forward for the Catholic Church. It does not denigrate the gift of priestly celibacy but ensures that Christian communities can grow through the Eucharist, even if celebrated by a married man. Married clergy are a complement, not a threat, to celibate clergy.
Liberals, conservatives, bishops or popes cannot monopolise the Holy Spirit. Thank God! What if we listen to the Spirit moving among people? Ecology is the new theology, alongside common sense.