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Pan Amazon or Pistoia Synod?

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Perhaps for fear of Cardinals Brandmüller, Müller, and Burke, and not to prove Bishop Athanasius Schneider right, the Vatican judged it prudent to remove the Pachamama statue from the closing Mass of the Special Assembly of the Synod for the Pan Amazon Region. Perhaps for the same reason, the scandalous pantheistic references of the Instrumentum laboris and its commendations of pagan religions as alternative instruments of salvation had their rough edges diplomatically rounded off in the Final Document.

However, one of the shells of the German-made cluster bomb embodied by this Synod brought in the Final Document an explosive charge greater than that it had in its preparatory documents: the ambitious ecclesiological revolution that corresponds to Leonardo Boff’s ultimate golden dreams when writing his book, Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church.[1]

Chapter V of the Synod Final Document, “New Paths of Synodal Conversion,” states that “this Synod gives us the opportunity to reflect on how to structure local churches in each region and country” (No. 9), since “synodality is a constitutive dimension of the Church” (n° 88), which characterizes the Church of Vatican II, “understood as People of God in equality and common dignity in the face of the diversity of ministries, charisms and services” (n° 87). To “overcome clericalism” (n° 88), synodality imposes a style of ecclesial communion “characterized by respect for the dignity and equality of all the baptized, the complement of charisms and ministries” (No. 91).

Recognizing that “the organizational forms for the exercise of synodality can be varied,” the document insists that they must establish “synchrony between communion and participation, between co-responsibility and the ministeriality of all, paying special attention to the effective participation of the laity”(n° 92). Beyond “the assemblies and pastoral councils in all ecclesial spheres,” “coordination teams” and “ministries entrusted to the laity” there is a need to “strengthen and expand the spaces for the participation of the laity, whether in consultation or decision-making in the life and mission of the Church”(n° 94), with the sole reservation that “ministries for men and women be conferred equitably” (n ° 95).

Practical measures to implement this expansion are far-reaching.

One of them is to entrust “the exercise of pastoral care” of communities without a resident priest to “a person not invested in the priestly character, who is a member of the community.” To avoid “personalism,” it must be “a rotating charge,” a fact that does not prevent from recommending that the Bishop establish it “with an official mandate through a ritual act.” To save appearances, “the priest always remains, with the power and faculty of the pastor, as responsible for the community” (n° 96).

An even more revolutionary practical measure is that, since “mother earth has a female face” and women must contribute “to ecclesial synodality with their sensitivity” (No. 101), it is requested that “one creates the instituted ministry of ‘the woman community leader’”and that they are able to “receive the ministries of Lectorate and Acolyte, among others to be developed ”(n° 102). The latter should be established on a provisional basis, as they are asking to continue studying the possibility of a female diaconate (No. 103).

Finally, in the name of the diversity of disciplines in the Church, it is proposed “to ordain as priests suitable and recognized men of the community … able to have a legitimately established and stable family” for “preaching the Word and celebrating the Sacraments” (n° 111).

This suggestion coincides with the ‘low cost’ priesthood limited to a community, proposed by Most Rev. Fritz Löbinger,  Bishop Emeritus of Aliwal (South Africa). But all the previous proposals fit like a glove the ecclesiology of liberationist former friar Leonardo Boff. That is what we will see next.

Note that the Final Document is absolutely silent about the ontological difference that exists between the ministerial priesthood of ordained clergy and the universal priesthood of the faithful, and even more, about the fact that the first derives through the laying on of hands from the priesthood of Christ, to Whom is ontologically configured the one receiving it. Instead, the document insists on “a Church that is all ministerial” (n ° 93), on the “ministeriality of all” (n° 92), on the “diversity of ministries, charisms and services” (n° 87), on the necessary “complement of charisms and ministries” (n° 91) and on the need to “overcome clericalism” (n° 90).

The Final Document’s “synodal” conception of the Church essentially coincides with the “reinvention of the Church” from its foundations dreamed up by Leonardo Boff. For the ex-friar sanctioned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the praxis of the Basic Christian Communities (BCC) has superseded a Church designed “according to the Christ-Church axis, within a legal vision,” in which “Christ transmits all power to the Twelve, and these to his successors,” dividing the community “between rulers and ruled, celebrants and assistants, producers and consumers of sacraments.”[2]  On the contrary, the BCCs highlight the fundamental reality: “The active presence of the Risen One and his Spirit within the entire human community.” This leads to “conceiving  the Church more from the base than from the summit; to accept the co-responsibility of all in the edification of the Church, and not only of some belonging to the clerical institution.”[3] Thus, within the BBCs, “predominates the circulation of coordination and animation roles, power being a function of the community and not a person; what is rejected is not power as such but its monopoly, which implies expropriation for the benefit of an elite.”[4]  The result is that “the whole community is ministerial, not just some members.”[5]  Here are, graphically represented, the following images of traditional ecclesiology (left) and BCC ecclesiology (right):[6]

To make things very clear, Boff emphasizes that in the second representation, “the People-of-God reality emerges as the first instance, and the organization as the second, derived from the first, and at its service. The power of Christ (exousia) is not only in some members but in the whole People of God.” This power of Christ “is diversified according to specific functions but does not exclude anyone” because “the dominant datum is a fundamental equality of all,” and only in a second moment, “differences and hierarchies arise.”[7] There arises, for example, “a specific charism with the function of being the principle of unity among all charisms,” but “it is a charism that is not outside  but within the community, not about the community but for the good of the community.”[8] Graphically represented, the following scheme results, highlighting the fact that “all services arise within the community and for the community:”[9]

As is known, in the exchange of correspondence between the Brazilian liberation theologian and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger accused Boff of proposing “a new model of Church where power is conceived without theological privileges, as pure service articulated according to the needs of the people, the community,” in circumstances in which “the traditional doctrine of the Church in this respect, clearly confirmed also by the Second Vatican Council, supposes, among other things, two fundamental truths: 1) the constitution of the Church is hierarchical by divine institution; 2) there is in the Church a hierarchical ministry linked essentially and exclusively to the sacrament of Order.”[10]

Already previously, and on the basis of a pastoral plan of the archdiocese of Kinshasa that instituted the so-called bakambi, that is, laypeople responsible for the pastoral care of a community under the theoretical responsibility of a priest with the function of pastor (something more moderate than what the Synod’s Final Document proposes because in Kinshasa that was a permanent position reserved for men, while synodal proposes a rotating ministry equally open to women), in an audience to a group of Zairean bishops during an ad limina visit, Pope John Paul II declared:

“We must vigorously reject the idea that, before ministries and sacraments, all members of Christian communities have the same responsibilities and problems. From the apostolic age, the Church seems to be structured; next to the faithful, there are ‘apostles,’ the ‘viri apostolici,’ with their successors the bishops, priests, deacons. … If certain ways of understanding the ‘sensus fidelium’ recalled by the Second Vatican Council have been abusive, the same has happened with the common priesthood of the faithful. … Some theologians have hastily tried to “remodel” the ministries. But who doesn’t see it? A minister appointed by the community, or as it is sometimes said, by the ‘base,’ cannot be the legitimate collaborator of bishops and priests. He is not connected with the venerable apostolic tradition that from us to the Twelve and then to the Lord characterizes the historical persistence of the laying on of hands for the communication of the Spirit of Christ.”[11]

Some years later, the Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest, signed by the cardinals responsible for no less than eight Roman dicasteries, reiterated the traditional teaching that “the exercise of the munus docendi, sanctificandi et regendi by the sacred minister constitute the essence of pastoral ministry,” and that “a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination.” [12]  

 And, in its practical provisions, the document stated that, “it is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as ‘pastor,’ ‘chaplain,’ ‘coordinator,’ ‘moderator’ or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the Pastor, who is always a Bishop or Priest.” [13]

Submerging the priesthood into the sea of lay “ministries” and de-clericalizing the ordained ministers to elevate to the priesthood married men exercising a profession, as the Synod proposes, is a colossal step toward demolishing the hierarchical structure of the Church.

In short, the “synodality” that the Final Document proposes can only be theologically founded on the doctrine formulated by the so-called “Synod of Pistoia,” which Pius VI considered a “conciliabulum” and condemned as heretical: to wit, the thesis according to which Jesus Christ did not transmit his triple priestly, magisterial and pastoral power directly to the Apostles but to the Church as a whole, and therefore, the charisms and ministries which communities need emerge from the communities themselves, from which the ministers receive the power to exercise those gifts.[14] Either that or the aggiornata version of the former Franciscan, condemned by the Holy See.

In any case, this being the pontificate of rehabilitations, perhaps Pope Francis could grace Leonardo Boff with a cardinal’s hat in an upcoming consistory.

 

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