Pope Francis carries his pastoral staff as he leaves the concluding Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 27, 2019. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Editorial: Focus on dreams

  • February 20, 2020

Reaction ranged from anger to relief after the Pope dodged a contentious debate about ordaining married men to the priesthood in his reflection on the recent Amazon synod.

Released Feb. 12 by Pope Francis, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation — titled “Beloved Amazon” — neither accepted nor rejected a request from South American bishops to make an exception to Church law and, in specific circumstances, allow married priests to serve remote Amazon regions. Instead, the Pope was mute on that matter and on a proposal for female deacons in his 16,000-word document that focused on the environmental, spiritual and cultural challenges impacting the vast area.

His unexpected deke on married priests brought criticism from all sides, from progressives urging the Pope to endorse change and from traditionalists urging him to quash any talk about compromising priestly celibacy. By saying nothing, in essence he adjourned the matter, which was probably wise. 

The Amazon synod, held last October in Rome, was not the place to settle a question that has profound ramifications for the universal Church. The bishops selected for the synod came primarily from the nine nations that border the Amazon region. Their voices certainly deserve to be heard, but not in isolation. This is a worldwide problem. If change is to come through a synod of bishops, that synod must include bishops in proportionate numbers from all parts of the world.

The problem is real. There is an acute shortage of priests in the Amazon region which means Catholics can go months without celebrating the Eucharist. But similar situations exist in some regions of Canada and in many other international jurisdictions. The problem is global and requires a remedy based on deliberations that examine a range of options by bishops who represent the universal Church.

The Pope’s silence on the matter keeps the argument alive and, indeed, ensures the debate will continue. It seems he understood that anything he said now on married priests or female deacons would rile emotions one way of the other and overwhelm his important observations on the ecological, spiritual and cultural crisis in the Amazon. 

His central message is that the Church must be active in the Amazon. It has an obligation to fight for the poor and combat injustice. It must be more respectful of Indigenous peoples and their distinctive culture. It must support efforts to “end the destruction of Mother Earth” by preserving the natural beauty and abundant life that teems in the Amazon rainforest and vast watershed. And finally it must find ways to bring the Gospel to the peoples of the region through inclusive and merciful forms of pastoral outreach that will give the Church “new faces with Amazonian features.”

The Pope called these his “four great dreams” for the Amazon. He urges Catholics to dream with him and set aside its nightmarish quarrels for another day.

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