Amazon Synod Mission Abandoned?
National Catholic Register, 27 June 2019
COMMENTARY: The footnotes to the synod’s working document indicate that it is at odds with how the Church — including Pope Francis — has traditionally taught about the mission.
The special synod for the “Pan-Amazonian Region” has a difficult question to answer: Why should the Church intensify its efforts in these remote mission lands if the mission itself is unclear?
The preparatory instrumentum laboris (working document) — from which the synod deliberations will proceed in October — was released June 17. Addressed to the theme “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” the document raises questions about the validity of the Church’s mission in Amazonia.
Do the indigenous peoples of the Amazon need the Gospel? And if they do, is it the same Gospel that the Lord Jesus sent the apostles to preach ad gentes (to the nations)?
While the affirmative answer to those questions is given repeatedly by the Church’s magisterium, the instrumentum laboris (IL) obscures that reality and borders on calling it into question. As a “working document,” it will leave the synod fathers in October with a substantial amount of work to do.
While initial media coverage has focused on a proposed discussion about ordaining married “elders” to deal with a shortage of priests, the IL proposes a discussion on something rather more profound. Would it be possible to ordain such men as priests only for the sacraments, but not, as it were, as pastors with governing authority?
The IL asks whether it is time to “reconsider the notion that the exercise of jurisdiction (power of government) must be linked in all areas (sacramental, judicial, administrative) and in a permanent way to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”
That is a rather fundamental question, which touches upon who can serve as pastor of a local parish and who can serve as head of Vatican congregation. It is a complex matter of both ecclesiology and sacramental theology.
While the question itself is not without merit, it is quite implausible that it should be taken up by a synod focused on the needs of a region with fewer people than the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. That is a question for the whole Church.
Leaving aside married priests, the treatment of the Church’s mission is most startling. One way to read magisterial documents — and should the Holy Father approve, the final document of the synod could become a magisterial document on its own — under Pope Francis is to check the citations.
For example, in the nearly 400 footnotes in Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) there was not one pointing to Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), indicating that what was presented was not grounded in the most comprehensive presentation of the Church’s moral theology.
When the Catechism paragraph on the death penalty was changed last year, there were no citations of magisterial documents of any kind and only one reference to a single address given by Pope Francis, indicating again that the change was not deeply rooted in the Church’s Tradition.
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