Pope Francis poses for a photo as he leaves the final session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 26, 2019. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Amazon synod supports married priests for Amazon

By  Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
  • October 28, 2019

VATICAN CITY -- While highlighting the gift of celibacy and the need for celibate priests in the Amazon region, the final document of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon has urged Pope Francis to allow the priestly ordination of married deacons to serve in remote areas.

Permitting married permanent deacons to be ordained as priests would help “sustain the life of the Christian community” in areas which are seldom if ever visited by a priest, the bishops proposed. These would be men already ordained into the diaconate and who have “having a legitimately constituted and stable family."

Although the paragraph regarding the proposal for ordaining married was approved, it received the least amount of support among those who voted, with 128 in favour and 41 opposed.  Each paragraph needed 120 votes to pass. 

To increase the Church's presence in remote areas, the document proposed that bishops entrust "the exercise of the pastoral care of the communities to a person not invested" with the priesthood for "a specific period of time."

However, "the priest, with the power and faculty of the parish priest, is always responsible for the community," the document said.

Whether or not any proposals contained in the report are implemented is up to the Pope. He indicated that he would issue a response to the synod document, perhaps later this year.

The final document also asked that women be given leadership roles in the Catholic Church, although the synod members stopped short of calling for women deacons.

In the Amazon, like in the rest of the world, the essential roles women play within the family, the community and the Church should be valued and recognized officially, members of the synod said in the document.

The document, which synod members voted on Oct. 26, included a call for the creation of "the instituted ministry of 'woman community leader,'" something they said would help meet "the changing demands of evangelization and community care."

Speaking after the vote on the document, Pope Francis said the synod's discussion on women "falls short" of explaining who women are in the Church, particularly "in the transmission of faith, in the preservation of culture. I would just like to underline this: that we have not yet realized what women mean in the Church," but instead "we focus on the functional aspect, which is important," but is not everything.

"I am going to take up the challenge … that you have put forward, that women be heard," the pontiff said.

The final document looked at several ways the Church can increase its ministry in the Amazon region. In addition to the proposal for married priests, at the heart of the document was the need to bring the good news to the Amazon, a mission that includes safeguarding the Indigenous people, cultures and land that are under constant threat of annihilation.

"The Amazon rainforest is a 'biological heart' for the increasingly threatened Earth," said the final document, released Oct. 26.

The Amazon, members said, is on "a rampant race to death. It is scientifically proven that the disappearance of the Amazon biome will have a catastrophic impact on the planet as a whole!"

The synod brought together 185 voting members — cardinals, bishops, 20 priests and one religious brother — and 80 experts and observers to discuss "new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology."

All 120 paragraphs in the final document garnered the necessary two-thirds approval needed for passage. The Vatican said 181 synod members were present. The focus of the synod's final document was the call for the Church to further its mission in proclaiming the Good News by uniting itself more to the people of the Amazon who, for decades, have suffered the consequences of humankind's greed.

The document underscores the crucial role of Amazonian ecosystems in regulating the global climate and as an important source of fresh water that "connects ecosystems, cultures and the development of the territory."

The Amazon faces environmental threats that make it "a wounded and deformed beauty, a place of suffering and violence," the bishops wrote. Violence against nature, in the form of rampant extraction of resources, unsustainable development and climate change, also have "serious social consequences."

To bring greater awareness and responsibility to the universal Church, the synod document proposed that ecological sin be defined as an act of commission or omission against God, against one's neighbour, the community and the environment."

The document also proposed the creation of "special ministries for the care of our 'common home'" that would promote ways of caring for the environment "at the parish level."

The synod called on all Christians to show their awareness of the value of God's creation by countering the current "culture of excessive consumption" through recycling, reducing their use of fossil fuels and plastic, as well as by reducing their consumption of meat and fish.

In proposing new pathways of ecological conversion, synod members stressed the importance of integral ecology, in which safeguarding nature and ensuring justice for "the most impoverished and disadvantaged on earth" are "intrinsically united."

"The future of the Amazon is in the hands of us all, but it depends mainly on our immediately abandoning the current model that is destroying the forest, not bringing well-being and endangering this immense natural treasure and its guardians," the document said.

The discussions that took place in the synod, the document said, also offered bishops an opportunity to reflect "on how to structure the local churches" in order to address the needs of a "church with an Amazonian face."

Among those ways are new ministries and roles for the laity, including "in consultation or decision-making in the life and mission of the Church."

To increase the Church's presence in areas that lack priests, the document proposed that bishops entrust "the exercise of the pastoral care of the communities to a person not invested" with the priesthood for "a specific period of time."

However, "the priest, with the power and faculty of the parish priest, is always responsible for the community," the document said.

Synod members asked for further discussion on the idea of women deacons, but approved several paragraphs in the document insisting that their role in leading Catholic communities be recognized and that "the voice of women can be heard, they are consulted and participate in decision-making" in the church.

The final document also emphasized the importance of the Eucharist as "the source and summit of all Christian life." However, it acknowledged that a lack of priests means Catholics in the Amazon have only sporadic access to the Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing of the sick.

The final document also spoke of the "elaboration of an Amazonian rite," as several synod members had proposed. The bishops voted to ask for a special post-synodal commission of bishops to be tasked with studying the idea.

Citing the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church document, "Lumen Gentium," the final document said that the proposed rite would express "the liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual patrimony of the Amazon" in a way similar to the Eastern Catholic churches.

However, in his address following the vote on the final document Oct. 26, the pope reminded synod members that the creation of an Amazonian rite "is within the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship and can be done according to the appropriate criteria."

After the votes were cast, Pope Francis told synod participants that he hoped to publish a post-synodal exhortation "before the end of the year so that not too much time has passed."

"A word from the pope about what he has lived in the synod may do some good," the pope said. "It all depends on how much time I have to think."

(With files from Cindy Wooden.)

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