We publish below Vaticanist Giuseppe Rusconi’s interview with José Antonio Ureta, columnist of the Pan-Amazon Synod Watch, which appeared on the Rossoporpora blog.
On the distant origins of this Synod, and on the importance of what is at stake, we interviewed Professor José Antonio Ureta, known here in Italy above all for his recent book, Pope Francis’s Paradigm Shift, Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church? (Institute Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira) and his intense public activity. Born sixty-eight years ago in Santiago, Chile, Ureta studied law at the local Catholic University and is a disciple of the Brazilian intellectual Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of the conservative Catholic association ‘Tradition Family Property’ (TFP). He is currently a researcher at its French counterpart. In the year 2000, he helped found the Fundacion Roma, one of the most influential Chilean life-and-family associations. He has been very active in the Chilean, Brazilian, Canadian, and South African TFPs. Those interested can listen to him on Saturday afternoon, October 5, at the Convention on the Pan Amazon Synod promoted by TFP in Rome at the Hotel Quirinale (via Nazionale 7). Meanwhile, here is the interview.
JOSE ANTONIO URETA: AN IDEA THAT COMES FROM BACK IN THE DAYS OF VATICAN COUNCIL II
Professor Ureta, we would like listen to what you have to say about a very delicate and controversial topic in a very turbulent moment within the Catholic Church. So, how did they decide to convene a Synod for the Pan Amazon Region?
The idea comes from way back, from the Sixties and Seventies. In my opinion, in this case we must face the reality that a minority that has seized power in the Church thanks to a series of maneuvers that have lasted for decades. These maneuvers have been and are people who know they are a minority and are bent on securing every possible ecclesial reform very quickly to make sure the steps they take become irreversible.
Can one assume that everything started from a certain interpretation of the Second Vatican Council?
Yes. A rift over interpretation arose already during the Council but later became massive. Some considered the conciliar documents to be in continuity with the Tradition of the Church, while others thought the Council had broken with Tradition. The former, represented by Communio magazine, favored the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, saying that the Church, spiritually well anchored, should be light for the world. The latter preferred the Gaudium et Spes, which instead highlighted a Church attentive to social evolution in the wake of history. Certainly, both attitudes were based on the Council’s works.
Does the papal magisterium also reflect the strong diversity in the interpretations of the Council?
One can note that in his pontificate, Paul VI promoted and strengthened the Gaudium et Spes current. Instead, the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI put Lumen Gentium in the foreground. A large majority of Catholics followed that cue. It is true that, in the meantime, most “progressive” Catholics had left the Church. However, while most of those who remained in the Church supported the priority given to Lumen Gentium, the other current imposed itself in many universities and national episcopates. Today, it has seized power on a universal level and intends to pursue and accomplish in the “progressive” agenda in record time. Hence, you have Amoris laetitia, the Synods on the Family… In the area of morality, in which John Paul II had set clear limits, which Benedict XVI later enhanced with the ‘non-negotiable principles,’ the current now in power has overturned the non-negotiable principles by moving the stakes further and further.
That appears once again in the latest statements of Pope Francis conversing with the Jesuits in Mozambique on the “stiffness” and the “fixations” of so-called “clericalism.” The stakes now seem to concern mostly the environment, migrants, chatter, except for the right to life and ideological colonization.
Yes, that’s right. Then, on the social level, Pope Francis organized three meetings with popular movements.
POPULAR MOVEMENTS AT A PEAK. FREI BETTO: DO NOT SPEAK ABOUT LIBERATION THEOLOGY, BUT ABOUT ECOLOGY
They held two in Rome (2014 and 2016) and one in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, in 2015. These meetings are the core of the volume presented on September 24, 2019 at the Jesuit General Curia, curated by Guzman Carriquiry Lecour and Gianni La Bella (Vatican Publishing Library). The preface is by Pope Francis, who immediately sought to give great visibility to popular movements.
However, note that in reality, these popular movements are no longer so important and do not affect the public opinion much; their prestige in Latin America is very small because of developments in Venezuela and the disaster that befell Marxists parties in every place where they rose to power. Those popular movements were a workhorse of Marxism but no longer had any chance of winning. Even Frei Betto, the 75-year-old Brazilian leading exponent of Liberation Theology, recommended to a group of followers in a video address that they no longer not talk about Liberation Theology because it sounds bad to people’s ears, but rather to raise the banner of ecology, which is all the rage now.
THE AMAZON - AN IDEAL PLACE TO REALIZE THE LAUDATO SI
The widespread belief that the Amazon is the lung of the world — a hoax – makes it very easy to create strong emotions around the topic in the hope that the Synod will succeed in concretizing the Bergoglian Laudato Si by pushing Catholics to take very marked ecological positions in their daily life.
From this point of view, l’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, is so avant-garde that its online edition was colored green through the entire weekend from September 27 to 29 (“Fridays for Future,” “Saturdays for Future”).
That clearly signals the rather worldly “horizontal” drift of the Church. Something else is that the Amazon as a region is also ideal because it has a shortage of priests and can serve as a bridgehead to officially experiment with the new ‘low-cost’ ministry, the viri probati, who supposedly are leaders of indigenous communities. They would become part-time priests in a limited area (of their community), a fact that never existed in the history of the Church. That would be turning a Catholic priest into a Protestant pastor, who emanates directly from his community. It is worth remembering that the well-known Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff had already asked for this back in the Seventies.
A RED THREAD OF CONTINUITY FROM THE SEVENTIES TO THIS DAY
The Seventies. There is a red thread linking this period to the Pan Amazon Synod.
Exactly. In 1968, the Second General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate held in Medellin made the preferential option for the poor, for whom the Church struggles side by side with revolutionary movements. Over the years, this choice has essentially proved to be a failure. On the one hand, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned the Marxist side of liberation theology. On the other hand, there was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Liberation Theology, therefore, has been recycled in a whole series of other movements, one of which one is Indigenous Theology.
Recycled. Does that mean defeated Liberation Theology is disguised in shaman’s feathers?
Historically, there are four people at the origin of Liberation Theology. In the interval between the second and third sessions of Vatican II, a meeting was held between the Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, the Austrian theologian Ivan Illich (linked to Latin America, deceased in 2002), and the Argentine theologian Lucio Gera (of Italian origin, deceased in 2012). On that occasion, the four promised to put into practice the “Schema XIII,” from which the Gaudium et Spes later derived. That meant promoting in Latin America the reforms postulated by Marxist revolutionary movements. That is where Liberation Theology was born. Lucio Gera then created the “Priests for the Third World” movement in Argentina, which mixed with terrorist groups. Reaction to this in the Catholic world was so strong that even Gera backtracked and acknowledged that this would not work and went on to conceive the “theology of the people.” According to this theology, the revolutionary force resides no longer in extreme leftist movements but the Latin American people, who react to the oppression of Western imperialism. It is no longer a political struggle but a cultural one.
LUCIO GERA AND THE “THEOLOGY OF THE PEOPLE,” WITH WHICH JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO IS IMBUED
Jorge Mario Bergoglio certainly knew Lucio Gera quite well.
Of course. He is a disciple of Lucio Gera. Gera is the one who drafted several preparatory texts for the III General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate in Puebla, in 1979. In Puebla, they already carried out the first metamorphosis after Medellin: they remained quiet about purely political and economic questions and began to highlight the importance of cultural issues among peoples confronted with the advancing globalization. At their Fourth Conference, held in Santo Domingo in 1992 (for the fifth centenary of the discovery of America and the beginning of its evangelization), for the first time they explicitly talked about inculturation and indigenous peoples. His compatriot, the Ecuadorian indigenous theologian Vicente Zaruma, in the preface of Gera’s book Perspectivas de teologia india, calling him “one of those beings born in human and communitarian vibration, in whom the atoms of Pachamama cannot die”), rightly observed that while liberation theology deals above all with people as a social class and with related material aspects, the Indigenous Theology highlights their culture and religiosity. Similar speeches echoed not only in Santo Domingo but were also strengthened in 2007 in the Fifth Conference, at Aparecida.
2007 GENERAL CONFERENCE AT APARECIDA: BERGOGLIO PRESIDES THE COMMISSION WRITING THE FINAL TEXT
In Aparecida, the then president of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference had a key role: He presided over the commission drafting the final document.
Their intention in Aparecida was to introduce Indigenous Theology explicitly into the final document, as shown in its first drafts. The successor of Joseph Ratzinger at the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Levada (who died a few days ago), took steps to cancel the reference. But 16 out of the 22 presidents of bishops’ conferences in attendance requested that Indigenous Theology be restored to the text. Levada again opposed it, explaining this theology was still very questionable and ambiguous. Their request was voted down but the text retained several indirect references to Indian Theology. At the opening address of the Conference on May 13, 2007, keenly aware that the topic would be discussed, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “The utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbian religions, separating them from Christ and the Universal Church, would not be a step forward; indeed, it would be a step back” and “a retreat towards a stage in history anchored in the past.” In other words, we cannot go back and revive paganism in the name of inculturation.
According to Cardinal Hummes, encouraged by the speeches of several Brazilian bishops, Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the Amazon issue very much to heart precisely in Aparecida.
Cardinal Claudio Hummes suggested that he relaunch the Amazon issue as soon as the archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected pope. For his part, Austrian-born Most Rev. Erwin Kräutler, Bishop Emeritus of Xingu in the Amazon noted that on that occasion they could raise the question of viri probati due to the scarcity of priests. It did happen. By now, people in the minority that were somewhat cast aside by John Paul II and Benedict XVI have seized power and are pulling all the stops to accomplish their agenda.
INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS POSTULATES THE MANDATORY STUDY OF THE INDIGENOUS THEOLOGY. A 2001 ANALYSIS BY CARDINAL LOZANO BARRAGAN
The Instrumentum laboris openly praises Indigenous theology to the point of requiring its teaching “in all educational institutions” (no. 98.d.3).
Yes, everywhere. At this point, it is necessary to recall the description of Indigenous theology that appeared in a 2001 report condensing the thought of thirty authors. The Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan had written it at the time of the fifth plenary session of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (at that time the biggest problems were in Mexico’s Chiapas). According to this theology, “In Indian cultures there is a true revelation. There are two revelations, that of [indigenous] traditions and that of the Bible. First comes the history of indigenous peoples, then the Bible’s, to support it. Indigenous traditions take precedence over the Bible. These traditions are the other Bible, the criterion [of interpretation] of the Christian Bible. Traditions are the other revelation of God. The history of indigenous peoples is their Old Testament.” In short: their mythology constitutes the “seeds of the Word.” The Bible? It is another paradigmatic story of another liberation that can serve at most as a source of inspiration but cannot interfere in the history of the Indian people. Therefore, the Catholic Church cannot claim to be the only source of salvation: “The institutional Church must stop being a teacher and become a student of the indigenous people” so that from Indigenous theology “a new Indigenous church will emerge with its new values, ministries, and institutions.”
The eighteen-year-old text of Cardinal Lozano Barragan is very clear. Today, looking at the names of Synod participants we find the well-known theologian Paulo Suess, an influential member of the pre-Synodal Council and one of the editors of the Instrumentum laboris.
Suess, a naturalized Brazilian of German origin.
These Germans play an important role in the Synod. Major funding for the various “progressive” missionary activities in the Amazon comes from Germany.
Yes. The Germans will have their local Synod (which promises to be very delicate for relations with Rome) and greatly influence the one abroad in any case. Paulo Suess coordinates the department of missiology, which he founded at the University of the Assumption in São Paulo, Brazil. He is a great advocate of inculturation and maintains that Indigenous Theology finds a source of salvation in itself. One can say he is a disciple of the post-modern French school of Lyotard, Foucault, Guattari, Derrida, etc. who deny the existence of objectivity and maintain that everything is conditioned by one’s own experience and culture. For Suess, every people must develop by themselves without interference. All you can do is to dialogue with them. In this case, the dialogue serves to affirm the cultural identity of Amazonian peoples. In short, for Suess, “extra culturam, nulla salus.”
THE SURREAL MYTH OF THE ‘NOBLE SAVAGE’ IN HARMONY WITH PACHAMAMA (MOTHER EARTH)
In the Instrumentum laboris, the pantheist myth of the “noble savage” returns positively and profusely. Its No. 20 says: “A contemplative, attentive and respectful look at their brothers and sisters, and also at nature – the brother tree, the sister flower, the sisters birds, the brothers fish, and even the smallest sisters like ants, larvae, fungi or insects – allows the Amazonian communities to discover how everything is connected, to value each creature, to see the mystery of God’s beauty revealed in all of them and to live together amicably.”
Two bishops have denounced the completely surreal character of Amazonian peoples presented in the Instrumentum Laboris. Most Rev. José Luis Azcona Hermoso, of Spanish origin, a former missionary and now prelate emeritus of the Brazilian island of Marajò (at the mouth of the Amazon River). He asserts that the vision that emerges from the document is romantic and completely wrong. From his experience it appears the Indians (whom he repeatedly defended against the trafficking of women and children) are not the models of virtues it describes. They have no concept of monogamous family, live in total promiscuity, and are often drunk and violent. We too have many vices and horrible behaviors but are never described as innocents in an earthly paradise. A German bishop in Peru, Most Rev. Strotmann Hoppe, says the same things.
SOME TRIBES STILL PRACTICE INFANTICIDE
Is it true that some Amazon tribes still practice infanticide?
Yes, roughly twenty out of about 400. For example, Yanomani women can decide on the life or death of their children. Disabled babies or twins are killed after birth.
But does Brazilian law allow it?
For the moment, it still does, but the Brazilian Congress is discussing a proposed bill to ban this barbaric practice. The “Muwaji projected bill” is named after an Indian woman who refused to kill her disabled child a few years ago. It has been approved by the House and awaits a vote at the Senate. There is a heated debate, as some contend that the human right to life is universal, while others say the Brazilian State gives autonomy to the most isolated tribes.
For us, it is incomprehensible. As for the Indians, most now live in urban areas.
And they want to integrate. The Indians know they are behind compared to the rest of Brazil. Their life expectancy is just over forty years, twenty years less than the Brazilian average and forty years less than Europe’s. Generally, when a government institution visits communities in the forest, the first question the Indians ask is when they will have electricity, which they consider a badge of insertion into the longed-for contemporary world.
MOST INDIANS WANT TO INTEGRATE INTO SOCIETY
However, on the sidelines of the Synod here in Rome, representatives of Indian tribes opposed to the exploitation of their territory will be headquartered in the Traspontina Church, on Via della Conciliazione, close to the Vatican.
Just like Greta Thurnberg, they are manipulated by missionaries and NGOs but do not represent Indian populations, who, by and large, look forward to make progress.
Western public opinion is often impressed by the photos and videos showing fires in the Amazon forest.
Here we are faced with another media manipulation. Brazilian fires have been below average this year. In the Bolivia of Evo Morales, there have been many more and much more serious. Bolsonaro seeks to prevent people from setting fire to land and forest; Brazilian law provides for heavy financial penalties for farmers who do so. We actually must remember that over 60% of the Brazilian territory is protected — almost as big as Europe. Many of those living there would like to exploit its mineral wealth or fertile soil. They, therefore, protest the constraints set by the State, asking why it is not possible to enrich themselves with the riches right under their feet. Why they ask, do you want to keep us underdeveloped?
THE SYNOD WILL KEEP THE PROPOSAL OF A "CHURCH WITH AN AMAZONIAN FACE,” AND THE NEXT APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION WILL ADMIT, IN A FOOTNOTE, EXPERIMENTAL ORDINATION OF VIRI PROBATI.
At this point, Professor Ureta, we ask you to predict the outcome of the Synod.
While some of the participants have common sense, I do not anticipate any of the massive resistance that publicly emerged during the Synods on the Family. Media pressures are very strong; the dominant currents have strengthened and are controlling the meeting. Yes, there will be discussions, and the texts — after all the public criticism (with accusations of apostasy and heresy coming from more than a few cardinals) perhaps will be purged from its uncritical praise of the Indian cosmovision. But the principles of inculturation and a “Church with an Amazonian face” will remain. An Apostolic Exhortation will follow in which a footnote will admit, ad experimentum, the ordination of viri probati, ‘low cost’ priests, perhaps in fact shamans. Do you know some missionaries postulate a “therapeutic” ministry for the latter to ensure harmony with Mother Earth, the Pachamama, named three times in the Instrumentun laboris?
This shaman stuff… What about the evangelization of the Indians?
There is none. We must be evangelized by the followers of Pachamama. The Instrumentum laboris states: “This process [of conversion] continues as one is open to wonder at the wisdom of indigenous peoples. Their daily life gives testimony to contemplation, care, and relationship with nature. They teach us to recognize ourselves as part of the biome and as co-responsible for its present and future care. Therefore, we must relearn how to weave links…” (No. 102). “The original peoples of the Amazon have much to teach us” (no. 29). In short, we must unlearn and re-learn to deprive ourselves of our western rationality. Children of fides et ratio, we now must understand fides as faith in the myths of nature while entirely forgetting about ratio, which is too abstract.
To conclude, Pope Francis announced the Synod at the Angelus of October 15, 2017 after the canonization of five martyrs — two Brazilians and three Mexicans – stating: “Embracing the wish of several Latin American Episcopal Conferences, as well as the requests of various Pastors and faithful from other parts of the world, I have decided to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, which will take place in Rome in the month of October 2019. The main purpose of this convocation is to identify new paths for the evangelization of this segment of the People of God, especially the indigenous peoples, often forgotten and without the prospect of a peaceful future, also due to the crisis of the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of paramount importance for our planet.” While the announcement seemingly has a regional scope, but the growing impression is the Synod can have important consequences on the entire Catholic Church.
For sure. The hoped-for introduction of an intermediary state between priest and layperson is a democratic revolution within the Church as Leonardo Boff hoped in 1972: Isolated communities without a priest have no Eucharist, which is the center of community life, and the community must be able to elect leaders who celebrate the Eucharist. Priests have seized symbolic means of sanctification just as the bourgeois had once appropriated the means of production to the detriment of the proletariat. The sacraments must be collectivized and the community must elect its leader. These had better rotate, for otherwise we would run the risk of clericalism, which Pope Francis condemns as a “perversion” of the Church. While the Amazon is the trial balloon, given the shortage of priests almost everywhere, the Amazon ‘contagion’ is assured. For example, in Germany they quickly prick up their ears: “We want it too.”
Then there’s the rest…
The idea that every Church must assume a local face. Essentially, the Church would become like an archipelago with as many thousand faces as the number of its different communities. Among the Orthodox, despite their divisions, the liturgy is the same. With us, the liturgy would not be the same, and we would see a slew of rites, including shamanic ones. African, Indigenous, Asian, and European theology. It would be the end of the Catholic Church — an archipelago with a thousand faces. I don’t know if that’s what Pope Bergoglio thinks of when he talks about the Church as a polyhedron. He already suggested it at the end of Amoris laetitia: local problems must be solved at the local level. All that remains is to pray.
Translated by the staff of Pan-Amazon Synod-Watch.
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