Former AEC General Secretary Rev Mike James looks at the outcomes of the recent Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. This is an edited version of the Catholic Standard editorial, November 8 issue.
The Synod of Bishops for the Amazon ended last month with the approval of a 29-page document, in the format of 120 points and recommendations which the participants, 185 Synod Fathers and 35 Synod Mothers submitted to Pope Francis for his consideration on the future of the Amazon region, with its implications for the Church and society worldwide.
The text takes as its own the formal title of the synod — The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology — with the latter four chapters each covering new paths for pastoral, cultural, ecological, and synodal conversion.
At the opening of the text the bishops say that all the participants of the synod expressed “a keen awareness of the dramatic situation of destruction affecting the Amazon,” whether in the loss of territory for indigenous people to industrial development or the ruin of the biome itself.
“The Amazon rainforest is a ‘biological heart’ for our increasingly threatened land,” they say. “It is on a frantic race toward death. It requires radical changes as a matter of urgency, a new direction to save it.”
Vatican News, the official news website of the Church has highlighted notable extracts from the following six key recommendations:
One of the priorities raised in the final document of the Synod which has caused significant debate has been the possibility of “ordaining suitable and tested men of the community, who have had a fruitful diaconate and have received adequate training for the presbyterate, while having a legitimately constituted and stable family, to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region” (111). This recommendation was proposed within the framework of Article (‘Art’) 26 of Lumen gentium, the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council.
Although the final document does not explicitly ask for the approval of the permanent female diaconate, it does mention it and Pope Francis responded that he will reopen the matter for consideration. The Synod also recommended that women “receive the ministries of the lector and acolyte” and proposed the creation “of the instituted ministry of ‘the woman leader of the community’.” It considered it necessary “to promote the formation of women in studies of biblical theology, systematic theology, canon law, valuing their presence in organizations and leadership, inside and outside the ecclesial environment”.
The Synod bishops say they consider it “urgent” for the Church to “promote and confer ministries for men and women in an equitable manner.” “It is the Church of baptized men and women that we must strengthen by promoting ministeriality and, above all, the awareness of baptismal dignity,” they state.
The Synod members also make a point to note that a bishop has wide authority in his diocese to entrust any person, man or woman, with ecclesial responsibilities.
“In the absence of priests in the community, the Bishop may entrust, for a specific period of time, the exercise of pastoral care of the community to a person not invested with the priestly character who is a member of the community,” they state (Art 96).
“The Bishop may constitute this ministry on behalf of the Christian community with an official mandate through a ritual act so that the person responsible for the community may also be recognised at the civil and local levels,” they continue.
Another of the important proposals made in this document has been to highlight “ecological sin”. “We propose to define ecological sin as an action or omission against God, against others, the community and the environment” (Art 82). The final document also explains that it is a sin “against future generations” and it manifests itself “in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment, transgressions against the principles of interdependence and the destruction of networks of solidarity between creatures and against the virtue of justice”.
In the final document, the Synod Fathers also point out that integral ecology “is not just one more option that the Church can choose for the future in this region but rather it is the only possible way”, since there is no other viable path to save the region (Art 67). The Bishops also call on the international community to provide “more economic resources”, “a fair and supportive development model”, and “tools to curb climate change”.
The Synod document expressed the rejection “of colonialist style evangelization” (Art 55) and states that the Church has the historical opportunity to distance itself from the new colonising powers by “listening to the Amazonian peoples so that they can exercise their prophetic activity with transparency” (Art 15). To address this issue, the Bishops propose clear processes of inculturation of their missionary methods and programmes. They also propose research and pastoral centres to study “the traditions of the Amazonian ethnic groups” to defend their identity and culture through “educational initiatives” (Art 57) that promote inculturation.
Perhaps the strongest language in the Synod document comes in the demand that we all protect the Amazon.
The Bishops speak movingly of activists in the Amazon who have risked their lives to call attention to the ecological crisis, saying environmental destruction “is accompanied by the shedding of innocent blood and the criminalization of the defenders of the Amazon.” They stressed that the protection of human rights a duty, and not an option, for Christians.
They write, “We denounce the violation of human rights and extractivist destruction,” and they call for the Church in the Amazon to join and support divestment campaigns from companies engaged in socio-ecological damage, and simultaneously advocate for a radical energy transition and the search for alternatives.