Bird’s Eye View of the News
Fr. Justino Sarmento Rezende a Catholic priest visiting a tribe in Amazonia, below, with Pope Francis
Parts of Querida’s introduction allow the conclusions of the Synod’s Final Document to be applied at the discretion of the Amazonia Bishops. I will be translating directly from the original Italian text by Typografia Vaticana. In this article I will not analyze other issues addressed by Querida that practically endorse what the Synod Final Document had requested.
After mentioning the Synod’s Final Document – Amazonia: New Paths for the Church & for an Integral Ecology – the Pope writes:
“I will not develop here all the issues dealt with at length in the Final Document. I do not intend to replace that text or repeat it. … (n. 2)
“I want to officially present this Document that sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the collaboration of so many persons who know better than I or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazonia, because they live there, they suffer there and they love it passionately. I prefer not to cite this Document in this Exhortation, because I invite everyone to read it in full. (n. 3)
“I pray God that the whole Church be enriched and challenged by the work of the synodal assembly. May the pastors, the consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful of the Amazonia strive to implement it, and may it inspire in some way every person of good will.” (n. 4)
These introductory words give the Final Document of the Synod an official papal endorsement. Indeed:
- Francis tells Catholics that he does not want to overwrite its conclusions, “I do not want to replace that text or repeat it”;
- He approves them as they are because the Bishops who reached those conclusions “know better than he the problems and issues of the Amazonia”;
- He invites Catholics to read it in full, which means that he fully approves it;
- Finally, he wishes that not only the Church in the Amazonia, but the entire Church should to be open to the challenges presented by the Synod’s Final Document. In clearer words, it means he wants the new paths proposed by this Document – viri probati, deaconesses, new rites etc – to be implemented or at least to inspire Catholics all over the world.
“I only wish to offer a brief framework of reflections to incarnate in the Amazonian reality a
synthesis of some of the larger concerns … to help guide us toward a harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the entire synodal way.” (n. 2)
Let me try to grasp what some of the texts actually want to say.
- “The way of conceiving the life and ministry of priests is not monolithic, but acquires various forms in different places of the earth. … The first conclusion, then, is that the exclusive character received in Holy Orders qualifies him [the priest] alone to preside at the Eucharist.” (n. 87)
An Indian blows drugs into another one's nose: An expression of the Amazonian culture...
- In the next text, Francis emphasizes the help laymen and women can offer to the priestly ministry and stresses that this assistance is not enough for the communities, since they have need of the Eucharist. He concludes:
“If we believe that this truly occurs, then it is urgent to create a way for the peoples of Amazonia not to be deprived of the Food of a new life and the Sacrament of forgiveness.” (n. 89)
In this text, the Pope warns Catholics that it is urgent for the Amazonia to have more priests, which corroborates what the Bishops requested.
- The question of the viri probati is addressed more directly in another text, although Querida does not clearly and plainly state that they should be ordained. It reads:
Francis dreams of a Tribalist Church
It is because if the Pope were to clearly endorse this request, he would face strong opposition. Remember, please, the book From the Depths of Our Hearts signed by both Benedict XVI and Card. Robert Sarah defending priestly celibacy launched just weeks before the release of Querida. So, this camouflaged language means: “Go ahead, Bishops of the Amazonia, I am behind you and will approve your ‘audacities.’ I just need a little more time to clean the house before I can state it clearly.”
The question of having deaconesses in the Church is a first step to having women priests. Since the categories of deacon and priest are both Major Holy Orders, once a woman is admitted to the first, the precedent is set, and she can go on to be a priest or even a bishop. There are serious obstacles to be crossed for a woman to become a deaconess or priest, given the imposing number of traditional documents forbidding this step. Even John Paul II had to issue the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of May 22, 1994, forbidding it.
Francis is doing his best to create a precedent to impose this novelty. He established a commission to study the first centuries of Church History to see if he could find an example. This commission did not find anything and the topic stagnated. In the Final Document of the Amazonia Synod, the Bishops again insisted on having deaconesses. In response, Francis sings his own aria to the Bishops. Let us see where he stands.
- After emphasizing the role of Mary and the role of women in the Amazonian communities, Querida affirms:
Although it faces serious obstacles, the push to approve deaconesses continues
When Francis speaks of “other services and charismas proper to women,” he implies that such services and charimas should go beyond those already carried out and possessed by women in Amazonia. What could theses services and charismas be? Obviously, the elevation of women to deaconesses is what comes to mind.
- Further on, however, he says the opposite:
“In a synodal Church, those women who in fact play a central role in Amazonian communities must be able to rise to ecclesiastical positions, including ecclesial services that do not require Holy Orders and that can permit them to better express their proper role. It is good to remember that such services require stability, public recognition and a mandate from the Bishop.” (n. 103)
Here Querida affirms that no matter what new services and charismas are needed, women cannot have access to Holy Orders. This is a denial of what Francis implied in the previous paragraph.
So, unless there is a plan to create a new type of “deaconess” that does not participate in the Sacrament of Orders, we have Pope Francis taking contradictory stands. At times he encourages women to become deaconesses; at times he affirms that they cannot receive Major Orders.