An African cardinal who is no stranger to mission territory raised concern that the upcoming Amazon Synod is being taken over by Westerners to promote an agenda contrary to Catholic teaching.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Guinean Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, gave voice to his worries in a recent French-language interview with the National Catholic Register’s Edward Pentin.
“I have heard that some people wanted to make this synod a laboratory for the universal Church, that others said that, after this synod, nothing would be the same as before,” he said, referring to remarks made by Switzerland’s Bishop Marian Eleganti and Germany’s Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck.
“If that is true, this approach is dishonest and misleading. This synod has a specific and local goal: the evangelization of the Amazon,” he continued.
Sarah spoke candidly of his fears that topics too important for a “particular and local” synod will be advanced there.
“I am afraid that some Westerners will confiscate this assembly to move their projects forward,” he said.
“I am thinking in particular of the ordination of married men, the creation of women’s ministries or giving jurisdiction to laypeople,” he continued.
“These points concern the structure of the universal Church. They cannot be discussed in a particular and local synod. The importance of its subjects requires the serious and conscious participation of all the bishops of the world. Yet very few are invited to this synod.”
Cardinal Sarah said that taking advantage of a “particular synod” to introduce these “ideological projects” would be an “unworthy manipulation”, a “dishonest deception” and even “an insult to God.”
“In addition, I am shocked and outraged that the spiritual distress of the poor in the Amazon is being used as a pretext to support projects that are typical of bourgeois and worldly Christianity,” he stated.
‘A young Church doesn’t need married priests’
Sarah stated that he is opposed to allowing optional celibacy, even in mission territories. The Guinean cardinal reminded his interviewer that he comes from a “young Church” and had personal knowledge of missionaries who went from village to village to help catechists. Thus, he knows that a “young Church doesn’t need married priests.”
“On the contrary,” Sarah stated. “She needs priests who will give her the witness of the lived cross. A priest’s place is on the cross. When he celebrates Mass, he is at the source of his whole life, that is, at the cross.”
He explained that celibacy is one of the “concrete ways” in which priests can live the “mystery of the cross” and that because celibacy is a cross, it is “unbearable for the modern world.”
“Some Westerners can no longer tolerate this scandal of the cross,” Sarah said.
“I think it has become an unbearable reproach to them. They [have] come to hate the priesthood and celibacy.”
Sarah believes that Catholics throughout the world must proclaim their love for the cross, the priesthood, and celibacy. The cardinal also believes that the current attacks on the priesthood come from wealthier nations.
“These attacks against the priesthood come from the richest,” he said.
“Some people think they are all-powerful because they finance poorer churches. But we must not be intimidated by their power and money,” he continued.
The cardinal stated that people who pray are more powerful than the world and Satan’s pride. He entreated those who are without worldly power and influence but “know how to remain on your knees before God” not to fear those who would intimidate them.
Sarah believes that optional celibacy will damage the Catholic priesthood, but that it can be protected by prayers, sacrifices, and Pope Francis.
“We must build a bulwark of prayers and sacrifices so that no breach will hurt the beauty of the Catholic priesthood,” he said.
“I am convinced that Pope Francis will never allow such a destruction of the priesthood,” he continued.
“On his return from World Youth Day in Panama on Jan. 27, [Francis] told journalists, quoting Pope Paul VI: ‘I would rather give my life than change the law of celibacy,’” Sarah related.
“[The pontiff] added: ‘It is a courageous phrase, in a more difficult moment than this, 1968/1970. … Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church. Second, I don’t agree with allowing optional celibacy, no.’”
The interview, which was translated from the original French by Ben Crockett of EWTN News, also touched on Cardinal Sarah’s suffering in “seeing the Church torn apart and in great confusion.”
“I suffer so much from seeing the Gospel and Catholic doctrine disregarded, the Eucharist ignored or profaned,” he said.
“I suffer so much from seeing the priests abandoned, discouraged, and [witnessing those] whose faith has become tepid.”
This is not the first time Sarah has voiced concern about the Amazon Synod.
He wrote in his recent book titled The Day is Now Far Spent that if the synod allowed priestly ordination of married men and fabricated “ministries for women and other such incongruities,” the situation would be “extremely serious” on account of the synod fathers breaking with Catholic teaching and tradition.
“If by a lack of faith in God and by an effect of pastoral short-sightedness the Synod for the Amazon were to decide on the ordination of viri probati, the fabrication of ministries for women and other such incongruities, the situation would be extremely serious,” he wrote.
“Would its decisions be ratified on the pretext that they are the emanation of the will of the synod fathers? The Spirit blows where it wants, of course, but it does not contradict itself and does not create confusion and disorder. It is the spirit of wisdom. On the question of celibacy, it has already spoken through the Roman councils and pontiffs,” he continued.
“If the Synod for the Amazon took decisions in such a direction, it would definitively break with the tradition of the Latin Church,” he added.
The Synod on the Amazon will take place in Rome from October 6 until October 27. Although a large number of bishops from Latin America have been invited, there will also be a strong German-speaking presence, including German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and two German priests who head two of the German Bishops’ overseas charities. Other guests include the United Nations’ former Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and advisor Jeffrey Sachs, both of whom support so-called abortion rights.