That Amazin’ Amazon Synod!
Yep. “Amazin'” is the only way to describe the plans afoot for the much-ballyhooed and disturbingly controversial Sinodo para a Amazonia. Amazonia is a general term for the area encompassing the Amazon basin, which stretches over eight nations covering roughly a third of South America. The Amazon Synod, planned for October 2019, is an ambitious attempt to address a wide variety of ecological, political, economic, and even religious challenges confronting the inhabitants of that critical–yet troubled–region of our planet.
The working document (Instrumentum Laboris in Latin) for the synod came out a few weeks ago, and it created quite a stir in what Catholic World Report describes as “certainly of the kitchen sink variety. It has all the bullet points: everything anyone could want, and more.”
The document is long. Translated from the Portuguese original, the Spanish version of The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and Integral Ecology comes in at twenty-two thousand words, give or take, footnotes included. It is articulated in three parts: of four, nine, and eight chapters, respectively, over one hundred forty-nine numbered paragraphs. The major divisions are: “The voice of Amazonia”; “Integral Ecology: The Cry of the Earth and of the Poor”; “A Prophetic Church in Amazonia: Challenges and Hopes.”
There is absolutely no doubt that Amazonia–both the region itself and more particularly its indigenous peoples–have been shamelessly and brutally exploited over the centuries. That the Church should address such injustices seems to us here at CCM to be entirely proper. But the working document frequently goes off in odd directions. (So odd, in fact, that Walter Cardinal Brandmüller calls the working document for the Synod “heretical” and an “apostasy” from Divine Revelation.
As William Kilpatrick says in an essay for Crisis Magazine:
The most ironic thing about this new venture into the primitive is that some of the prime movers are the leaders of the Catholic Church. Take the upcoming Amazon Synod. The working document for the Synod does makes some valid observations about the biological and climatological importance of the Amazonian region and about the exploitation of the Amazonian people. But when it comes to describing the peoples, the “Voice of the Amazon” sounds suspiciously like the voice of Rousseau—or better, the voice of Rousseau harmonized with the voice of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and elevated to the cosmic level. Thus:
- A fundamental aspect of the root of human sin is to detach oneself from nature… (99)
- A cosmic dimension of experience (cosmovivencia) palpitates within the families. (75)
- It is necessary to grasp what the Spirit of the Lord has taught these people throughout the centuries: faith in the God Father-Mother Creator; communion and harmony with the earth; solidarity with one’s companions … the living relationship with nature and “Mother Earth.” (121)
It’s a sort of 21st Century New Agey re-imagining of Rosseau’s “Noble Savage” construct. Dwelling overlong on that romantic notion of indigenous peoples tempts one to see them as the teachers, the guardians of profound divine truths that Western civilization desperately needs to learn. The idea that Catholicism is the legitimate guardian of the divine truths which lead people to eternal salvation has to take a bit of a back seat…at the very least it should zip its lip and listen attentively to “the ancient wisdom of the ancestors.”
Another problem the synod will address is that of the priest shortage in Amazonia. The most practical solution, according to many associated with synod preparation, is to ordain indigenous married elders, presumably using some sort of “fast track” seminary process. Because these potential priests have wives (who themselves, one must allow, equally well-versed in the wisdom of their culture), these wives could be given some sort of official role in parish life as well…perhaps even as a sort of deaconess or something.
Something for everyone in the Instrumentum Laboris, to be sure!
Here at CCM, we’ll be watching developments closely. I expect we’ll even have a dedicated section on our home page where our vast readership (all three dozen of you!) can easily keep abreast of each amazin’ twist and turn on the road to the Amazon Synod.