Conservative Catholics from around the world were relieved, even elated, with the publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia”, issued by Pope Francis on February 12th as the conclusive document of the Special Synod of the Pan-Amazon region that took place in Rome last October. The Exhortation seemed indeed to meet the requests of conservatives, who had been asking the pope not to change the Church’s discipline on some crucial matters, like priestly celibacy and women’s ordination. Cardinal Gerhard Müller called it a “compromise document,” as if Francis had backed down and was eager to stretch out his hand. Some commentators even interpreted the document as a personal victory for Joseph Ratzinger, who would have thus reclaimed his role as effective Pontiff.
It’s true that Francis didn’t open the doors progressives were requesting. Quite the contrary, he reaffirmed the traditional doctrine of the Church on such issues. In this sense, “Querida Amazonia” is very obviously a set-back for them. A closer look at the document, however, evinces some serious pitfalls most media are not highlighting. Francis put the brakes on theology but accelerated on politics and environmentalism, confirming the impression Latin Americans have always had: his is a political rather than a theological Pontificate.
The promoters of the Pan-Amazon Synod – followers of the Liberation Theology movement – spoke of it as a “Vatican Council III” that would “reinvent the Church,” giving it a wholly new physiognomy: an “Amazonian face.” Bishop Franz-Joseph Overbeck, a Synod organiser, went as far as to declare: “After the Synod, the Church will not be the same.” Obviously, they were expecting a revolution.
European progressives – in particular the Germans who, by the way, financed the Synod hoping to get the most out of it – were pressing hard especially on two points: the end of ecclesiastical celibacy (or at least its attenuation), and the diaconal ordination of women. These two issues were part of a broader agenda for Church reform, aiming at the gradual destruction of hierarchy and authority, and the gradual erasing of the difference between clergy and laity. This is the “new Church” dreamed of by Karl Rahner and Yves Congar and, before them, by the Modernists.
For reasons that need to be better explained, most of the world media, especially European, concentrated exclusively on these two points, as if the Pan-Amazon Synod were all about priestly celibacy and female ordination. Understandably, when the Post-Synodal Exhortation was issued, with no concession whatsoever on these two points, many conservatives celebrated, as if the peril had been definitely defeated. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
While closing some doors, “Querida Amazonia” leaves others wide open.
Endorsement of the Final Document. Just like every synod, the Pan-Amazon Synod went through successive texts: from the initial Lineamenta (proposals) to the Instrumentum Laboris, and then to the Final Document. The Instrumentum Laboris was so radical in its craving for a revolutionary Church reform, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller accused it of “apostasy” and “schism.” Widespread reaction to it led to a toned-down Final Document, which, albeit with a softer language, nonetheless contained many of the same errors. Pope Francis fully endorses it: “[The Synod] concluded by issuing its Final Document, The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology. (…) I would like to officially present the Final Document [and] encourage everyone to read it in full. May God grant that the entire Church be enriched and challenged by the work of the synodal assembly. May the pastors, consecrated men and women and lay faithful of the Amazon region strive to apply it, and may it inspire in some way every person of good will” (N° 2-3).
Knowing how the Liberation Theology movement operates, I’m sure many will simply “forget” the Exhortation, and use the Final Document as being Pope-approved. Even more so because, in the course of the Synod, Pope Francis declared: “This will not be a Synod of documents but of the Spirit.” It’s as if he said: “don’t worry about the texts, just do what you want” – something perfectly in line with his policy of “opening processes.”
Radical environmentalism and anti-industrialism. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation adopts some tenets of radical environmentalism, closely intertwined with a social agenda that tends towards socialism. This type of environmentalism eschews industrial society, accused of destroying the Earth. It opposes the industrial exploitation of the Amazon jungle, be it farming or extraction. It presents the Indians’ lifestyle, based on hunting and fishing, as a panacea for today’s evils, the only one compatible with a “sustainable development.” Affirming that “[in the Amazon] daily existence is always cosmic,” Pope Francis states: “The wisdom of the original peoples of the Amazon region inspires care and respect for creation, with a clear consciousness of its limits, and prohibits its abuse. To abuse nature is to abuse our ancestors, our brothers and sisters, creation and the Creator”(N° 42-43).
The concept of “sustainable development” is crucial. It implies that modern civilisation was built by over-using the Earth’s resources. We now have to drastically diminish our lifestyle in order to save the planet: “The conquest and exploitation of resources… has today reached the point of threatening the environment’s hospitable aspect: the environment as ‘resource’ risks threatening the environment as ‘home’” (N°48). The Indians would be models for the post-modern society: “The indigenous peoples of the Amazon Region express the authentic quality of life as “good living”. This involves personal, familial, communal and cosmic harmony and finds expression in a communitarian approach to existence, the ability to find joy and fulfilment in an austere and simple life, and a responsible care of nature that preserves resources for future generations” (N° 71).
This “good living” mentioned by Pope Francis (bom viver, in Portuguese; sumac kawsak, in Quechua) is one of the pillars of the Indian Theology of Liberation. In a nutshell, it affirms that the Amazonian Indians’ lifestyle is the only one compatible with justice: since there is no private property there is also no oppression of some over the others. The indigenous people live in a communitarian (i.e. egalitarian) society, in cosmic harmony with nature. This is exactly the final goal of Communism, as explained by Friedrich Engels in «The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State».
Support for the Pachamama. Perhaps what provoked the strongest reaction among the faithful during the synod was the pagan cult to the “Pachamama” (Mother Earth), first in the Vatican and then in the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina. This pagan cult was in line with the Instrumentum Laboris, which exalted the Amazonian indigenous spirituality, to the point of proposing some sort of official recognition (i.e. priesthood) for the witch doctors. It also inferred that the Church should develop an Amazonian rite, inspired by tribal rituals. While braking on anindiscriminate inculturation, the Post-Synodal Exhortation does not fail to mention favourably the cult to Mother Earth (N° 42), and asserts: “We can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols” (N° 82). Again, it’s highly probable that liberation theologians will disregard the restrictive nuances while making full use of phrases like this.
Indigenous Liberation Theology. While not overtly embracing indigenous liberation theology (as, instead, Synod promoters would have wanted) the Exhortation does propose its basic tenet: “We believers encounter in the Amazon region a theological locus, a space where God himself reveals himself and summons his sons and daughters” (N° 57). In other words, the Amazon, meaning tribal life, would be a source of revelation for the modern world, a place where God is breaking into history. Thus, in addition to the revelation contained in Sacred Scripture, we have to add this new “Amazon” revelation and conform the Church to it: “I dream of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features. (…)The Church also needs to grow in the Amazon region. In doing so, she constantly reshapes her identity through listening and dialogue with the people,” (N° 7, 66). Particularly, the Church should heed the wisdom of the elders: “For the Church to achieve a renewed inculturation of the Gospel in the Amazon region, she needs to listen to its ancestral wisdom, listen once more to the voice of its elders, recognize the values present in the way of life of the original communities, and recover the rich stories of its peoples”(N° 70).
This inculturation has to incrorporate even tribal beliefs hitherto considered superstitions: “Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples. (…) It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry. A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error” (N° 78-79).
This can lead to an Amazonian rite: “It means that we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols. (…) During the Synod, there was a proposal to develop an “Amazonian rite” (N° 82, footnote 120).
Women’s ordination. While denying the opportunity of women’s ordination to priesthood, the Exhortation does leave a door open when it affirms: “We must keep encouraging those simple and straightforward gifts that enabled women in the Amazon region to play so active a role in society, even though communities now face many new and unprecedented threats. The present situation requires us to encourage the emergence of other forms of service and charisms that are proper to women and responsive to the specific needs of the peoples of the Amazon region at this moment in history” (N° 102).
Support for the Liberation Theology movement. We could go on and on, quoting passages and paragraphs that will not fail to serve as open doors. We need to take into account one essential point. We are not dealing with abstract theology, of the type developed in cloisters and classrooms. We are dealing with an extremely dynamic movement: Latin American Theology of Liberation. While in the case of abstract theology documents are valued for what they say, in a movement what really matters is not printed material but the praxis. Pope Francis’ pontificate has been remarkable in promoting the primacy of praxis over doctrine.
The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia”contains explicit encouragement for the Latin American Liberation Theology movement. We read, for example, in N° 97: “I encourage the growth of the collaborative efforts being made through the Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) and other associations.” REPAM is a continental network that gathers the extreme factions of Liberation Theology, with close contacts with the political radical Left.
All summed up, Pope Francis applied the brake on theological and moral issues, and we have to be grateful to him for this. But, on the other hand, he accelerated on politics and environmentalism. And this is worrisome.
Source: Altare Dei