There is a lot of controversy whirling around the upcoming Synod on the “Amazon.” Many of those concerned at the general drift of the Church in recent times have raised substantial and insightful misgivings about many of the notions contained within the working document issued to guide the discussion – “Laboris Instrumentum.” These voices include many in the Hierarchy and upper echelons of the Church, including Cardinals. Their reservations are grounded not only in the document itself, but in the various utterances, statements, commentaries and general hype which has for long now characterized the run-up to this Synod which has been billed as some sort of “cure-all” for many ills assailing the Church.
One could be tempted to dismiss these voices “sounding the alarm,” but given their stature, orthodoxy, long devotion to service in the Church and simply their impressive credentials, it would be folly to do so.
One of these voices is none other than the previous Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), a man of impeccable morals and doctrinal integrity, Cardinal Gerhard Müller.
The Cardinal has issued a number of statements analysing the theses put forward in the working document – one of which is the claim that that there are new sources of Revelation related to geographical areas, like for example the Amazon region.
“If here a certain territory is being declared to be a ‘particular source of God’s Revelation,’ then one has to state that this is a false teaching, inasmuch as for 2000 years, the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition are the only sources of Revelation and that no further Revelation can be added in the course of history,”
he stated. He lamented that the “main problem” with the working document is that “key terms are not being clarified.” For example, the Cardinal asks:
“What is a synodal path, what is integral development, what does a Samaritan, missionary, synodal, and open Church mean, or a Church reaching out, the Church of the Poor, the Church of the Amazon, and more?”
He makes a profound analysis in an in-depth review of the envisaged discussions at the Synod, dissecting the liberal usage of terms like “ecovision”, “inculturation,” “cosmos,” and concludes:
“Instead of presenting an ambiguous approach with a vague religiosity and the futile attempt to turn Christianity into a science of salvation by sacralising the cosmos and the biodiverse nature and ecology, it is important to look to the centre and origin of our Faith: ‘In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature’ (Dei Verbum 2).”
In a second detailed critique, the former Prefect, who was the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog under Pope Benedict outlined further his misgivings on the Synodal process in Germany and the upcoming Amazon Synod saying that:
“The Secularization of the Church is the Cause of the Crisis and Not Its Remedy.”
He laments the 216 000 German Catholics who formally left the Church in 2018, commenting:
“This crisis of a massive exit from the Church and of the decline of the Church’s life (low Mass attendance, few Baptisms and Confirmations, empty seminaries, the decline of monasteries) cannot be overcome with the help of a further secularization and self-secularization of the Church. It is not because the bishop is so kind and encouraging – close to the people and never shy of expressing banalities – that the people return to Christ’s salvific community or participate piously at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and in the Sacraments. Rather it is because they recognize the true worth of the Liturgy and Sacraments as means of Grace. Should the Church try to legitimize herself before a de-Christianized world in a secular manner as a natural-religious lobby of the ecological movement, or try to present herself as a relief agency for migrants by donating money – she would lose even more of her identity as the universal Sacrament of Salvation in Christ, and she will not at all receive that much-yearned-for recognition on the part of the left-wing, green mainstream.”
“The Church can only serve men in their search for God and for a life in the Faith if she proclaims to all men the Gospel in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and if she makes them disciples of Jesus through Baptism. She is the Body of Christ, so that Jesus Christ, her Head, remains present through her and in her, until the end of the world (see Matt. 28:19 seq.).”
“The so-called synodal path of the Church’s establishment in Germany, however, aims at further secularization of the Church. Instead of a renewal in the spirit of the Gospel, with the help of catechesis, mission, pastoral care, mystagogy [a mystical explanation] of the Sacraments, one now relies on – and this has already been going on for a half a century now – other topics, hoping thereby to receive public approval of the western world and to please that way of thinking that holds a materialistic image of man.”
“As it was already the case with the Family Synods, the “German Church” claims hegemony over the Universal Church and proudly and arrogantly praises herself as the trendsetter for a Christianity at peace with modernity – in spite of Pope Francis’ 29 June 2019 Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany. However, it has not been explained – and it is also hard to see for any interested observer – why, in the face of the desolate state of the Church in one’s own country [Germany], they now feel called to be a model for others. They use the neutral and good-sounding expression of a “wholesome decentralization” (Instrumentum Laboris 126) and of a de-Romanization of the Catholic Church (earlier, this was called the anti-Roman aversion); but really what they value is the mythology of the Amazon and of western ecological theology, over Revelation; as well as the hegemony of their ideologues, over the spiritual authority of the successors of the Apostles in the episcopal office.”
“The synodal process in the realm of the German Bishops’ Conference is now being linked with the Synod for the Amazon, and this is done for ecclesial-political reasons and as a leverage for the restructuring of the Universal Church. Additionally, at both events the protagonists are nearly identical, and they are even financially and organizationally connected by way of the relief agencies of the German Bishops’ Conference. It will not be easy to control this wrecking ball. Afterwards, nothing is to be anymore as it was before, and it has been said that one will not even recognize the Church afterwards. Thus spoke one of the protagonists thereby revealing the true aim.”
“Unfortunately, in the once nearly completely Catholic South America, Catholics, just as in Germany, have left the Catholic Church by the millions without leading to any consideration of the roots of this catastrophe, nor leading to an earnest determination to foster renewal in Christ. The solution here is not a pentecostalization of the Church, that is to say her liberal protestantization in a Latin American way, but the re-discovery of her Catholicity.”
“As a supposed way out of the crisis of the Church, the Instrumentum Laboris and the synodal process in Germany both rely on a further secularization of the Church. When, in the entire hermeneutics of Christianity, one fails to start with God’s historical self-revelation in Christ; when one starts with incorporating the Church and her liturgy into a mythological view of the entire world; or turns the Church into part of an ecological program for the rescue of our planet, then the sacramentality – and especially the ordained office of bishops and priests in the Apostolic Succession – are up in the air. Who would actually want to build a whole life requiring total dedication upon such a shaky foundation?”
The Cardinal’s full text can be viewed through one of the links at the end of this article, in which he expounds also on the sacrament of Holy Orders and proposals to look at ordaining married men.1 He also takes issue with the propositions bandied about by progressivists on a “Sacramental Office for Women.”
“When making a theological analysis of the doctrinal and ecclesiastical-historical facts, in context with the binding statements concerning the Sacrament of Holy Orders, there is to be seen very clearly that sacramental ordination, in the degree and with the official title “deacon,” has not and has never been administered in the Catholic Church to women.”
“It stems from the “divine constitution of the Church,” as Pope John Paul II has reliably decided, that the Church has no authority to administer to women priestly ordination. This is not the conclusion from history, but, rather, stems from the divine constitution of the Church. This of course applies to all three sacramental degrees.”
“The Magisterium of the Pope and of the bishops has no authority over the substance of the Sacraments (Trent, Decree on Communion under both species, DH 1728; Sacrosanctum Concilium 21). Therefore, no synod – with or without the Pope – and also no ecumenical council, or the Pope alone, if he spoke ex cathedra, could make possible the ordination of women as bishop, priest, or deacon. They would stand in contradiction to the defined doctrine of the Church. It would be invalid.”
He concludes his critique,
“It is certainly so beautiful to be at the Rhine and to dream of the Amazon. But impressions of majestic rivers cannot calm the yearning of the human heart, nor can their waters quench the thirst for eternal life. Only the water, which Jesus the Incarnate Word of God, gives us, becomes in us, the “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).”
Meanwhile Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, who is a world renowned-scholar of church history, in a strong critique of the working document, noted2&3
“It is truly astonishing that, contrary to former assemblies, the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon will deal exclusively with a region of the earth whose population is just half that of Mexico City, that is to say, 4 million.”
He further asks,
“In principle, we must ask why a synod of bishops should deal with topics which, at best, (as is now the case with three quarters of the Instrumentum Laboris) relate only marginally to the Gospels and the Church. Clearly, there is an encroaching interference here by a synod of bishops into the purely secular affairs of the Brazilian state and society. What do ecology, economy, and politics have to do with the mandate and mission of the Church?
“Furthermore, throughout the Instrumentum Laboris one finds a very positive assessment of natural religions, including indigenous healing practices etc., even mythic-religious practices and cult forms. In the context of the call for harmony with nature, for example, there is even talk about “dialogue with the spirits” (n. 75).”
“It is not only the Rousseauian or Enlightenment ideal of the “noble savage” that is being contrasted with the decadent European. The line of thought continues right up to turn to the 20thcentury, ending in a pantheistic idolatry of nature.”
“Accordingly, the territory — the forests of the Amazon region — even becomes a locus theologicus, a special source of Divine Revelation. These are “epiphanic places” where “the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifest, a life and wisdom that speaks of God” (n. 19). The anti-rational rejection of the “western” culture, which stresses the importance of reason, is characteristic of the Instrumentum Laboris.”
“It is impossible to conceal that the “synod” intends, above all, to help implement two most cherished projects that heretofore have never been implemented: namely, the abolition of priestly celibacy and the introduction of a female priesthood – beginning with female deacons. In any event, it is about “identifying the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women … in the Church (129 a 3).” In a similar manner, “room is now opening up to create new ministries appropriate to this historical moment. It is the right moment to listen to the voice of the Amazon…” (n. 43).
“But the fact is omitted here that, in the end, John Paul II also stated with highest magisterial authority that it is not in the power of the Church to administer the Sacrament of Holy Orders to women. Indeed, in two thousand years, the Church has never administered the Sacrament of Holy Orders to a woman.”
The cardinal laments that many of the document’s guidelines do “not correspond to the precepts of the Constitution “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” nor to those in the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes. It also manifests a purely horizontal understanding of liturgy.”
The Cardinal sums up his critique with a very serious comment:
“The Instrumentum Laboris burdens the synod of bishops and ultimately the Pope with a serious break with the depositum fidei. Such a break consequently implies the self-destruction of the Church or the change of the Corpus Christi mysticum into a secular NGO with an ecological-social-psychological mandate.”
Cardinal Brandmüller, author of several historical books and former President of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Science, had published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a strong defence of priestly celibacy – one of the issues receiving much publicity ahead of the Synod.
Dissecting the issue, he opines,
“Nobody who observes the current situation in the Catholic Church carefully would really believe that the upcoming synod in October is truly about the fate of the Amazon forests and its inhabitants.” He sees “the Amazon” as “merely a label.”
“ ‘The spirit in the bottle’ has another name: radical re-structuring of the Church according to the well-known programme.”
And according to the Cardinal, a fundamental aspect of the current reform program is celibacy.
“If it [celibacy] falls,” he explains, “then the Church is also done for, as already the Church’s enemies had claimed in the late 19th century.”
After thoroughly analysing much of the argumentation raised by those who favour abolition of celibacy (see link below), he holds firm that despite the historical ups and downs in fidelity to the celibate state, “times of ecclesial-cultural flourishment were always also marked by a loyalty toward celibacy – and vice versa.”
Cardinal Brandmüller concludes his essay reminding readers that,
“in the last 150 years, there was nearly no Pope who did not stress the dignity, spiritual beauty, and fruitfulness of this way of following Jesus.” The profound reason for this, according to the Prelate lies, “in the essence of the priesthood itself.”
The priest “who celebrates on the altar Christ’s Sacrifice, does so ‘in Persona Christi‘ and by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”
“He who is so existentially involved in Christ’s work of redemption,” the prelate asks, “should he not therefore also live ‘in Persona Christi,’ that is to say, to imitate the way of living of his master?”
Adding his voice to an ever growing chorus expressing concern, Cardinal Raymond Burke in an August 13 YouTube interview covered by LifeSiteNews4 said that
“the working document used for the upcoming Pan-Amazon synod organized by the Vatican at the request of Pope Francis amounts to ‘apostasy’”.
“The Cardinal made this comment when asked whether the working document known as the Instrumentum Laboris for the October 6-27 Synod may become definitive for the Catholic Church. Cardinal Burke replied: “It cannot be. The document is an apostasy. This cannot become the teaching of the Church, and God willing, the whole business will be ‘stopped’”.
“Burke, in a different interview, commented on remarks that synod organizers made suggesting a relaxation of celibacy in the priesthood for the Amazon region, saying that it would affect the entire worldwide Church. “It is not honest” to suggest that the October meeting is “treating the question of clerical celibacy for that region alone,” he said in June.
“Cardinal Burke said in his interview with Coffin that secular media and some Catholic media are “glorying” in calling Pope Francis a “revolutionary.” Saying that the office of the papacy is not revolutionary, he said that its primary function is to “safeguard the doctrine of the Faith and the Church’s discipline in order to be the principle and foundation of unity in the Church.”
“If you tell me that the Pope is a revolutionary, I would be very concerned because that has nothing to do with the papacy.”
Adding his voice to the growing number of those concerned with the discussion document, Dom Giulio Meiattini, a monk of the abbey of Madonna della Scala in the southern Italian province of Bari, makes the case that the Instrumentum laboris proposes and contains nothing less than a “reversal” of the “very idea of Church and Christian faith.” In short, his appraisal is that it promotes a “biodegradable Christianity.”5
“For some time now, we have known or imagined that the Synod on the Amazon would hold some surprises and create further reason for division. At first, it seemed that perhaps the thorniest issue to arise at the synod would concern married clergy. It must be said that the publication of the Instrumentum laboris has far exceeded these expectations and the liveliest imagination. The document, in fact, points towards a much more ambitious and radical goal. It is the most daring move that could be conceived and attempted by the secretariat of a synod of the Catholic Church. The document proposes and contains nothing less than a reversal ab imis fundamentis [in its deepest foundations] of the very idea of Church and Christian faith.”
“I say “Christian” and not “Catholic” with good reason, because in fact the method and contents of this text, which is full of repetition and quite cumbersome, have actually liquidated the fundamental elements of Christianity. Naturally, the operation is carried out with the usual system, which I have pointed out on other occasions: not by denying but by keeping silent, not by contradicting but by diluting. In this way, the reader can also be favourably impressed by all the interesting reflections on ecology, ethnology, health and sanitation and sociology that it contains, and many of which are in themselves also right. But in the midst of these lush and redundant empirical analyses, which say nothing new and which a specialist could say in a better and more substantiated manner, the Person of Christ and His Gospel disappear; they are literally swallowed up by the lush tropical forest.”
“In reading this hymn to the Amazonian paradise on earth (which is presented as a new Eden of innocence and communal and cosmic harmony without stain, except those brought by Western civilization; cf. n. 103), it is difficult to understand how and why this portion of humanity needs faith in the Incarnation. The myth of the great Amazonian river as the source of life replaces the great Christological and Paschal image of the river that flows from the Temple (according to the prophet Ezekiel) and that “brings life and heals wherever it flows.” Instead of asking how the proclamation of the Gospel can be brought to these peoples, and how the living water of Christ can heal and bring life to the lives of these peoples, it is taken for granted that they already live, thanks to their ancestral traditions, in an Edenic condition by which, if anything, the Church must allow herself to be converted. It is said several times that the Church must take on “an Amazonian face,” but the document does not understand whether, and how, the Amazon can or should assume a Christian face, and whether this is desirable or not.”
The Instrumentum laboris expresses opinions which some may like, but it is not a Christian document. Let this be clearly stated. A few biblical quotations inserted as the title of several paragraphs, or the use of words like “Church”, “conversion” and “pastoral,” are not enough to guarantee the evangelical character of a text. They look like protective screens, but the Word of the living God does not constitute the foundation and inspiration on which the document is built. By way of example, consider Part I, Chapter 1, which is dedicated to the theme of life. The title is inspired by John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.” It would seem to be an excellent starting point. But what follows never says what this life that Jesus came to bring consists in, nor that John speaks of “eternal life” and that this life is the same Trinitarian life given by the Holy Spirit. In commenting on this verse from the Gospel of John, the text is content to illustrate Amazonian biodiversity and the rich hydrography of the Amazon basin, and to praise the “good life” of the indigenous people, which — an astonishing discovery — “means understanding the centrality of the relational-transcendent character of human beings and creation and includes ‘doing good’” (n. 13). Of course, it is not clear whether the Cross of Christ and his Resurrection are still necessary for the sort of “good living” that is here being presented as a model. The Cross is mentioned only twice, and it is understood that it never refers to the redemptive Cross of Christ, but to the “history of the Cross and Resurrection” which consists in the Church’s solidarity with the struggles of indigenous peoples in the defence of the territory (n. 33-34; 145).”
Sounding another alarm on the upcoming Amazon Synod, LifeSiteNews (July 17)6 reports comments of respected theologian, Monsignor Nicola Bux. Bux, a former consulter to the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during Benedict XVI’s pontificate, said in a recent interview that
“what we are facing is an attempt to genetically modify the Church” – “to create another Church” by “demolishing” the true Church from within.
Having dissected many of the discussion document’s propositions and theses, “Msgr. Bux noted said it is “significant” that the Instrumentum laboris has received the “enthusiastic approval — and perhaps the advice — of Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan priest, a historical exponent of liberation theology who, in the 1970s, was admonished by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
The respected theologian concluded the interview, saying:
“There is no liberation without conversion to Christ. The Instrumentum Laboris never mentions this term, which is at the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but, as cardinals, priests and faithful have already observed, contradicting in decisive points the binding teaching of the Church — that is, to which every true Catholic is bound — it can be qualified as heretical. An attack on the foundations of the faith, which reduces the Catholic religion to pure subjectivism. It almost seems that it is Jesus Christ who must convert to the new Amazonian divinity. But is this “the Catholic faith transmitted by the Apostles,” as we pray in the Roman Canon?”5
Bishop Marian Eleganti, the auxiliary bishop of Chur, Switzerland, had this to say in a recent statement, comments which are so telling, so common-sense and beautifully orthodox, they are transcribed here almost in their entirety:7
“As the face of the Church, I wish that we have the Face of Christ as presented to us in the Gospels. In this sense, there exists for me not a Church “with an Amazonian face.” And it is also not desirable that a certain region in the world imposes its own face upon the Universal Church. Rather, the Face of Christ should become visible in all cultures of the world. But for this, they first have to convert to Him. The Gospel is the salt of the earth and the light of the world: in this sense, there is also always cultural criticism.”
“This is valid also for the Amazon region, which direly needs such criticism based on Revelation, in order to be able to reflect the Face of Christ and so that it does not in reality distort it with the help of their own cultural ideas and rites. The Gospel changed and humanized the culture of antiquity in the Mediterranean region at the time. This was so then and is not much different today. This applies to all cultures in the world. Jesus understood His Gospel as dough, which permeates and changes the heart of man – and with it, the culture.”
“Let us, therefore, not turn upside down the situation and the spiritual order of truth, as if in the culture of the Amazon region, the Holy Ghost precedes the Gospel, and as if it (the Gospel) frees itself with the help of the indigenous culture, and not the other way around!”
“I agree with Cardinal Brandmüller when he criticizes that we should not speak of the Amazon region when we in reality mean and target the Universal Church. The sacramental priesthood is not a matter that can be decided upon – or re-defined – in the Amazon region. The last councils since Trent have clearly linked jurisdiction, ruling authority, and sacramental ordination. They may not be separated if we wish to remain loyal to the will of these councils. The question of women may not be abused as leverage in order to depart from it and to create new offices for women. The hierarchical-sacramental structure of the Church is not up for consideration. It is not possible that, already fifty years later, council statements should not be any more normative, in order to start a laboratory experiment in the Amazon region, which in turn then will contaminate the whole Mystical Body of the Church – and gravely damage it.”
Finally, to quote one last famously outspoken Prelate, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, the Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, who also has raised serious misgivings over the slant of the upcoming Synod and the radical progressivist tone permeating much of the discourse around the discussion document.8
“In his July 14 interview with ORF [an Austrian national public service broadcaster], Bishop Kräutler said that it is “nearly a scandal” that, in many parishes in the Amazon, the Holy Eucharist is barely being celebrated. This way of speaking in itself is already unclear and definitely tendentious. No one has a right to the Holy Eucharist. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the ultimate gift of God. One can speak of a scandal in Catholic parishes when the Faith is there being denied and not practiced, when God is insulted by the scorning of His Commandments, by grave sins against charity, by idolatry, shamanism, and so on. One could speak of a scandal in a Catholic parish when people there do not pray enough. That would be a true scandal.”
“One should rather speak of a scandal when one considers the fact that, during the last decades in the Amazon, intensive pastoral initiatives to foster vocations were not launched, initiatives in accordance with the 2000-year-old experience of the Church. That is to say, by way of constant prayers, spiritual sacrifices, and an exemplary and holy way of life on the part of the missionaries themselves. One of the most effective means in order to foster solid priestly vocations, also in the Amazon, are missionaries who lead a life as true men of prayer, as true apostles, that is to say with the help of a loving and sacrificial life totally dedicated to Christ and to the salvation of immortal souls.”
“Those that Bishop Kräutler and many of his clerical fellow travellers now demand are, rather, caricature-priests in the form of aid workers, NGO employees, socialist syndicalists, and eco-specialists. But this is not the mission of Jesus Christ, of the Incarnate God Who came to give His Life at the Cross in order to redeem mankind of the greatest evil. That is to say, redemption from sin, in order that all men may have the divine and supernatural life, and that they also have it abundantly (see John 10:10).”
“It does not hold to employ the trick of dramatizing the “Eucharistic hunger” or the lack of Eucharistic celebrations, because it is not the reception of the Holy Eucharist that is necessary for salvation, but the Faith, the prayer, and a life according to God’s Commandments.”
“If, over a long period of time and due to the lack of priests, Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion, then one should instruct them to practice spiritual Communion which has a great spiritual strength and effect. The Desert Fathers, for example, have lived for years without the Eucharist and have reached a great union with Christ. My parents and I myself for years were unable to receive Holy Communion in the Soviet Union. But we always practiced spiritual Communion, which gave us much spiritual strength and consolation. When then a priest would come, and we were able to confess ourselves, to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receive Holy Communion sacramentally, then it was a true feast for us and we experienced in a very deep and joyful manner how precious the gift of the priesthood and the gift of the Eucharist are.”
“There is one single example in the Church’s history when the Japanese Catholics, without priests, maintained the Catholic Faith over the course of more than two hundred years. Today, Japan has a sufficient amount of indigenous priests, who are of course celibate. Even though, at the time, the pagan culture of Japan rejected a celibate priesthood, the Japanese Catholics held in such high esteem the celibate priesthood that it became a sign of identification for Catholics. That is to say, when in the 19th century Christian missionaries again came to them – among them married Protestant preachers – they rejected them for this very reason. But when then Catholic priests came, and when the Japanese Catholics asked them whether they were married and they responded in the negative, they were then welcomed by these faithful as priests of the true Church of Jesus Christ. The Church thus could have brought up in the 19th century the same arguments as today the Amazon Synod will do, in order to ordain indigenous married priests, because at that time, many parishes in some missionary regions also could only have the visit of a priest a few times in the year.”
“Priestly marriage was legalized in the Eastern Church in the 7th century, but not because of the lack of priests – at the time, there was an overabundance of priests especially in Constantinople. It was rather done out of leniency toward human weakness, because those who in the episcopal and priestly office imitated Jesus Christ – the Eternal High Priest of the New Covenant – and who act in the ordained office in the person of Christ the Head had deviated and departed from the Apostolic rule of a celibate life. At the time, in the Greek Church, it was a regional solution of a local church, but which the Roman Pontiffs however did not recognize nor accept. It was at the time a deviancy and a disloyalty toward the demanding imitation of Christ, which the Apostles lived out in their complete sexual continence, from the moment of their being called and unto death. Because the Apostle Peter clearly bore witness to this way of life and he also confirmed it: “We have left everything: also wife and children” (Matthew 19:27).”
“The introduction of a married priesthood in the Amazon would not bring forth true apostles, but, rather, a new category of priests within a sort of dynasty. At the same time, one has to keep in mind that the indigenous culture of the Amazonian peoples has not yet reached a reliable and proven maturity of whole Christian generations which are thoroughly permeated by the spirit of the Gospel.”
“For example, the Germanic tribes still needed – after the initial systematic evangelization by Saint Boniface – some more centuries before being able to bring forth numerous and proven celibate indigenous clergymen.”
“Without doubt, in the Amazon in the 19th and 20th century, there were heroic and holy missionaries: bishops, priests, religious sisters. In the last decades, however, some missionaries in the Amazon have turned away from the true spirit of Jesus Christ, of the Apostles, and of the holy missionaries; they, instead, have turned to the spirit of this world. They do not preach anymore, with full conviction, the unique Redeemer Jesus Christ and they do not make sufficient efforts to transmit His Supernatural Life of Grace to the people in the Amazon in order thereby to lead them to eternal life, to heaven, and thus even unto the sacrifice of one’s own life. Often, the opposite happened. By abusing the name of Jesus and of the holy episcopal and priestly office, missionaries and even bishops have preached in the Amazon mostly a gospel of earthly life, a gospel of the stomach, as it were, and not a Gospel of the Cross; a gospel of the adoration of nature, of the forest, of the water, of the sun, a gospel of the adoration of this so brief earthly material life. And this they did, even though the people in this region, are also in truth themselves thirsting for the sources of divine, eternal life. Such a way of missionizing the Amazon is a betrayal of the true Gospel and this betrayal has been perpetrated during the last decades throughout vast parts of this region. And now, some wish to legitimize – with the help of a synod of bishops on the international level – this same betrayal of the true supernatural evangelization in the spirit of Jesus and of the Apostles.”
“The defenders of a married Amazonian clergy who are really nearly all of European and not of indigenous descent, are finally not interested in the true spiritual good of the Amazonian faithful, but in the implementation of their own ideological agenda which aims at having a married clergy also in Europe and then throughout the entire Latin Church. For, everybody knows that, after the introduction of the first regionally limited married clergy in the Amazon, there will be, with the help of the domino effect and within a relatively short period of time, a regular married clergy of the Roman Rite also in other parts of the world. Thereby, the apostolic heritage of a celibate priesthood according to the model of Jesus Christ and His Apostles would be effectively destroyed in the whole Church.”
The courageous Bishop sums up the days of crisis through which the Holy Church is passing in this beautiful, spiritually rich manner:
“The successor of Peter, the Pope, has a strict duty, as given to him by God, as the holder of the Seat of Truth (cathedra veritatis), to preserve, in its purity and integrity, the truth of the Catholic Faith, the Divine Constitution of the Church, the sacramental order as instituted by Christ, and the apostolic inheritance of priestly celibacy; and to pass them on to his own successor and to the next generation. He may not support in the slightest way – by silence or by an ambiguous conduct – the obviously Gnostic and naturalistic contents of parts of the Instrumentum laboris, as well as the abolishment of the apostolic duty of priestly celibacy (which first would be regional, and then naturally, and step by step, then becomes universal). Even if the Pope would do this at the upcoming Amazon Synod, then he would gravely violate his duty as the Successor of Peter and the Representative of Christ, and he would then cause an intermittent spiritual eclipse in the Church. But Christ, the invincible Sun of Truth, will re-illuminate this brief eclipse by again sending His Church holy, courageous, and faithful popes, because the gates of hell are not able to overcome the rock of Peter (see Matthew 16:18). The prayer of Christ for Peter and his successors is infallible. That is to say, that, after their conversion, they will again strengthen their brothers in the Faith (see Luke 22:32).”
“The truth, as Saint Iraeneus formulated it, will remain standing also in a time of an intermittent spiritual eclipse in the Church – as it is the case with our time, by God’s unfathomable permission: “For, in the Roman Church, the Apostolic Tradition is always preserved on the part of the faithful who are everywhere” (Adversus haereses 3, 3, 2).”
All the previous critiques and misgivings have emanated from intellectuals and theologians not directly connected with the people or region of the Amazon or claiming much experience from being “on the ground” so to speak… The following insights covered by Maicke Hickson writing for LifeSiteNews fills this gap. In this helpful article she covers strong criticism of the Synod’s working document by Amazon experts – people on the ground, in touch with the Amazon and its inhabitants.(9)
“In recent weeks, unexpected clergymen and laymen have raised their voices against the Amazon Synod. These individuals come from the Amazon region or have worked there and thus have deep knowledge of the larger situation of the Amazon. Based on their own experience, they have come to criticize the Amazon Synod’s working document that is to be the foundation for the October 6–27, 2019 event.”
“Only recently, LifeSiteNews reported about the words of retired bishop José Luiz Azcona Hermoso, who has lived in Brazil for thirty years and who pointed out that the Amazon Synod’s working document (instrumentum laboris) omits important parts of the life of the Amazonian people. He pointed out that the majority of these people are not even Catholic anymore — Pentecostalism is on the rise — and that there exists a significant amount of child abuse, most prominently pedophilia, in these regions. Both facts are not mentioned in the Amazon Synod’s working document.
In an additional interview with the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, Bishop Azcona argues that the authors of the instrumentum laboris neglect altogether to mention portions of the population of the Amazon — for example, the Afro-Americans, as well as the “absolute majority” of the Amazon, the “Ribeirinhos.”
“The ‘face of the Amazon’ of the IL [instrumentum laboris],” he explains, “is not Amazonian. The indigenous peoples that are a very small minority in the Amazon region are dominating the largest part of the ‘Amazonian face.’” He considers it a new “form of colonialization,” as if “now the indigenous culture would be imposed upon the entire Church.”
The bishop is also opposed to the idea of introducing married priests in the Amazon region, saying the region most needs “a personal conversion.” But in the synod’s working document,
“it is not the Gospel, which — as the unique divine power — can save, liberate, and build up those people who believe, as well as the family, society, culture, and identity.”
In conclusion, the prelate states that the synod document is
“theologically and therefore pastorally weak and dangerous, because it bans the Crucified and Resurrected Christ from the centre, thus also running the danger of causing a schism.”
Without this concentration on an evangelization and this conversion to Christ, the prelate goes on to say,
“the Catholic Church has no future. Then the synod would altogether turn into a gigantic propagation of important topics such as ecology, cultures, and dialogue.” Here, Azcona speaks of “pastoral naïveté,” and “a betrayal of the Gospel, of mankind, and of the indigenous people in the Amazon region.”
The article of Hickson continues – bringing in further voices of disquiet:
“First, there is a German missionary priest in Brazil, Herbert Douteil, who in an interview with the German Catholic journal Vatican Magazin speaks about the animist religion of many indigenous people. He stresses that, unlike the idealistic depictions in the Amazon Synod document, the indigenous people are “afraid” of the forest and its spirits. For them, there are “good and bad spirits in the jungle, in the plants, trees, animals, rivers, and in the weather,” Fr. Douteil explains. “The indigenous person always lives in fear, of getting into trouble with the evil spirits and not sufficiently honouring the good spirits. Each trip into the jungle is a renewed encounter with the threatening unknown.”
When these people hear from Fr. Douteil that Jesus Christ Himself has the power to drive out demons, and that the demons even needed permission from Him to drive themselves into pigs,
“it was a liberation for them,” the priest states. “When we have Christ in our hearts,” they told him, “then we do not need to have fear of any kinds of evil spirits!”
This missionary priest thereby debunks the Amazon Synod’s document and its idea that somehow we Catholics have to learn from the religions of these indigenous people. They, too, are in need of God’s redemption and Christ’s liberating truth.
Douteil, who is very much aware of the social injustices of that region and who has also worked for the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Amazonian peoples, sceptically says about the so-called Indian theology itself that
“I am not aware of it. Perhaps it exists at some universities, as there supposedly exists also a specific ‘feminist theology’ at European universities.”
Being involved in charitable work for victims of drug abuse in the Amazon region, Douteil does not shy away from criticizing the synod document’s false use of mercy. Asked about the lack of priests in the region, he states that to him, the instrumentum laboris
“demands here too much and builds a new Trojan horse, as it was already once the case with the document Amoris Laetitia with regard to the notion of mercy, with the help of which one wanted to revamp the sexual morality.”
For this priest, the idea of introducing married priests in the Amazon region is merely a “functionalism” and “not a true solution.” His idea is rather to promote morally proven men as lay catechists who, in the case of need, could also distribute Holy Communion.
Further asked about the question of inculturation, Fr. Douteil points out that he himself is a liturgy scholar and that, according to his expertise and experience,
“I could not name one single liturgical element that is not also accessible to the indigenous people, and, on the other hand, that there is none that should or could be introduced into our liturgy.”
“Again and again,” he continues, “we have to be careful not to dissolve the liturgy into a social ritual that is oriented toward man and misses the Mysterium Tremendum, that is to say, where one wants to make everything naturally understandable.”
“A third source of critiques, once more by way of an interview with Die Tagespost, is a German missionary, Reinhold Nann, who worked for a long time in the Peruvian Amazon region and has been the bishop of Caravelí, Peru, for the last two years. While he has great sympathy for the Amazon Synod’s purposes and puts great hope in the synod and Pope Francis, he nevertheless warns against unrealistic expectations at the synod and reveals some stunning facts about the Amazon region.
Due to the vast regions that a priest has to cover in the Amazon region, due to the poverty of the population, and due to the lack of priests, the Church has not yet been able to present herself in her hierarchical structure and with her moral teaching.
“The people live their own morality, not the Church’s morality, which is very much due to the Church’s absence in their lives,” Nann explains.
This fact has consequences for the plans to allow married priests in the region: how can one have married priests if the couples in the region seldom marry? Nann says he would first like to work with catechists and married deacons,
“but also there exists a problem: there are only a few married laymen.”
Due to the lack of evangelization in the region and its weak faith, Bishop Nann also does not see that the local parishioners have much yearning for the Eucharist. He sees that the people in the Amazon region
“do not really ask for the Eucharist. A Liturgy of the Word is for most of them as good as a Mass.”
“Last but not least, there comes to us a lay voice, a social anthropologist from South America who wishes to remain anonymous, who is an expert with regard to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region. In a lengthy critique of the synod’s working document, this author points to its numerous inaccuracies. Most importantly, he insists that this document presents an “abstract and invented ‘world of the indigenous,’” using “stereotypes and clichés.” The description of the indigenous, as they are found in the Vatican document, often does not correspond to reality.
For example, the anthropologist states that the indigenous peoples have a type of family “which is alien to the Catholic understanding of family,” inasmuch as the children are often raised by the community and inasmuch as the people often have sleeping arrangements in groups (“Maloca”).
Therefore, the anthropologist calls it a “myth” when the synod document speaks of the “good life” of the indigenous. He points to the “extreme poverty,” as well as to “alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and abuse of women and children.” In addition, he finds in certain regions even a “high inclination to suicide” among the indigenous, due to malnutrition, high mortality rates among children, and a life expectancy of about 20 years of age.
Another “myth” of the instrumentum laboris is to be found with regard to the purported closeness of the indigenous peoples to nature, according to this expert. He speaks of a “myth of the harmony between the indigenous and the environment” and proceeds to describe “the reality” that the “ecological practices of the indigenous peoples of the tropical American rain forest often are in conflict with the ideas of the synod specialists.” Here, the anthropologist shows how many indigenous communities still use the traditional agricultural method of “slash and burn,” by which trees are felled and then burned, so there can be some harvest before the soil is soon exhausted.
At the end of this lengthy analysis of the instrumentum laboris, this anthropologist says that what would be of help to these indigenous people would be “scientific knowledge, not magic” — not the traditional practices, but “agriculture and a sustainable economy” would help them in their poverty and needs.
“Modern medicine, not the traditional ethnobotany” will be of help in order “to get rid of the endemic suffering of these groups of the population,” the anthropologist explains.
“Literacy and higher education, not shamans, will be able to free the indigenous from their historic submission, from the marginalization” in which they find themselves, the expert states.” (9)
It would be well to make a brief reference here to the extraordinary vision and insights of Professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira, famous Brazilian Thinker, and man of action, whose acumen, insights and visionary analyses are finding much resonance in our days. Were he to be alive today he would have the bitter-sweet satisfaction of seeing his conjectures and prognoses fulfilled, especially where they pertain to an incisive book he authored in 1977 – Indigenous Tribalism – the Communist-Missionary Ideal for Brazil in the 21st Century.
The afore-going comments and analyses by prominent Clerics and Theologians is by no means exhaustive. They are but a sample of a major chorus of voices deeply concerned about the general drift in the Church.
All the primary documents are covered fully in the links below.
Compiled by Bernard Tuffin