Maike Hickson

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Pope Francis after election on the loggia, Rome, March 13, 2013.

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Plans to remake Church with ‘Amazonian face’ began with Pope Francis’ 2013 election

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ANALYSIS

September 19, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – A chronology of the events leading up to the Pan-Amazon Synod happening in Rome next month show how early Pope Francis in his papacy started to plan it.

The Amazon Synod’s working document has been criticized and denounced by top cardinals as being “heretical,” “apostasy” and a “break with tradition” for pushing for married priests, female ministries, and a church that is centered more on man instead of God. The synod is set to take place in Rome from October 6-27.

Already one month after his 2013 election, the Pope met with some key organizers of that synod, including Cardinal Claudio Hummes and Cardinal Pedro Barreto, and spoke about the Amazon region.

The following chronology helps illustrate how the small group around Cardinal Hummes, Cardinal Barreto, Bishop Erwin Kräutler, and their own organization REPAM (Pan Amazon Church Network) are really at the center of this Amazon Synod, a center that includes their own network of “experts” who have written both the preparatory and working document of the upcoming synod.

Neither REPAM nor the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has answered inquiries from LifeSiteNews that are pertinent to our investigation. This silence is alarming given that synod organizers promised an open, transparent, and basis-oriented process. The facts set out in our chronology suggest that behind the synod is a small group of like-minded thinkers – most of them liberation theologians – who have masterminded every step of the synod and its agenda but who prefer to remain quietly in the background.

Let us now first consider some of the key dates of the history of the Amazon Synod's preparation:

2013: Pope Francis speaks of Church’s ‘Amazonian face’

March 13, 2013: Pope Francis sits next to Cardinal Hummes during his election. He was later to comment on this symbolic event and points out that it was Hummes who effectively gave him the name Francis: “During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don't forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi.” 

April 2013: Then-Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno, meets with Pope Francis and Claudio Hummes, a meeting which led to the founding of REPAM, which in turn will prepare the Amazon Synod. According to a Catholic News Service report, Barreto had been inspired by the Brazilian bishops and their work for the Amazon region – especially with regard to the indigenous and the environment during the meeting of the Latin American bishops in 2007 in Aparecida. 

“That commitment [to environmental and indigenous issues] led to a proposal for a church network spanning the nine Amazonian countries. The idea, which became REPAM, grew out of a 2013 meeting of Ecuador’s Amazonian bishops and church workers, in which Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes and Cardinal-designate Barreto participated.

Pope Francis had been elected just a month before the Ecuador meeting, and [Mauricio] Lopez [the executive secretary of REPAM] recalled that Cardinal-designate Barreto predicted the new pope’s support for the Amazonian church workers’ concerns.

'He said, ‘Expect things that you never expected, expect profound changes,'' Lopez said.

One of those unexpected things was the pope’s encounter with indigenous Amazonian people from Bolivia, Brazil and Peru during his visit to Peru in January [2014]. There, he called for a church with an Amazonian face.”

As can be seen from this CNS report, Pope Francis went on to promote the Amazon region and the idea of a church with an “Amazonian face” from the beginning of his pontificate.

Barreto plays here an important role. “The Archbishop of Huancayo [Barreto] has an old friendship with Jorge Mario Bergoglio and is one of the main promoters of REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network that gave birth to the next Synod of Bishops dedicated to the South American jungle,” a report by ACA Prensa states. 

Part of Pope Francis' engagement early on in his pontificate is rooted in the 2007 Aparecida meeting, at which then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was the editor of the final document, thus being deeply immersed in the debates of liberation theologians. 

As the Amazon Synod's working document states: “109. According to the Aparecida Document, the preferential option for the poor is the hermeneutical criterion for analyzing proposals for the construction of society (501, 537, 474, 475), and the criterion for the Church's self-understanding as well. It is also one of the physical features, as it were, that characterize the Latin American and Caribbean Church (391, 524, 533) and all its structures, from the parish to its educational and social centres (176, 179, 199, 334, 337, 338, 446, 550). The Amazonian face is that of a Church with a clear option for (and with) the poor[48] and for the care of creation. From the poor, and from the attitude of caring for God’s goods, new pathways are opened for the local Church and they continue towards the universal Church.”

Liberation Theology has a history of using the plight of the poor as a pretext for offering solutions to problems that often depart from the Church’s social teaching. Key representatives of Liberation Theology – among them Fr. Paulo Suess, one of the drafters of the Synod's working document – had been invited by Cardinal Rodrigez Maradiaga to collaborate with the bishops of the Aparecida meeting and thus to contribute to the meeting's final document.

April 22-24, 2013: The first preparatory meeting for the founding of REPAM takes place in Puyo, Ecuador. According to a Vatican News report: “Mauricio López reminds us that 'it was in that April 2013 that some representatives of the missionary teams, such as the Itinerant Team, of ecclesial instances also of great inspiration such as CIMI (Consejo Indigenista Misionero, of Brazil), but above all agents of pastoral care, social pastoral care, indigenous pastoral care, of an important number of countries of the Pan Amazon, and of inculturated missionary congregations, such as the Consolates, Capuchins, Franciscans, and many others, began the weaving of a network.”

Bishop Rafael Cob was the host of the event. He would later be called by Pope Francis into the pre-synodal council for the Amazon Synod.

The significance of this Puyo meeting cannot be underestimated. It shows that at the roots of REPAM is also another initiative started in 1998: That of the Itinerant Team (IT), a group of Jesuits in Brazil and then in the larger Pan-Amazon region which is inspired by the idea of being poor, helping the poor and the indigenous people, and accepting everybody's own religion (which goes as far as religious indifferentism). CIMI worked with the IT and is part of it from the beginning. And CIMI was headed by Bishop Kräutler for decades, with Paulo Suess being either his general secretary or theological advisor.  As one article on the history of the Itinerant Team states: “It [the Itinerant Team] is one of the seeds that germinated into the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM); it was its midwife and is part of it. Today, in the new context of REPAM and the Amazon Synod, the Itinerant Team helps to promote, form and weave the Itinerant Network of REPAM.”

Cardinal Hummes and Bishop Kräutler also work together within the Brazilian Bishops' conference, as President and secretary of the episcopal commission for the Amazon.

Cardinal Hummes and Bishop Kräutler, when writing an open letter as representatives of REPAM in 2017, both called the founder of the Itinerant Team, Father Claudio Perani, S.J., a “prophet of the Amazon.” Perani died in 2008. He has in common with Fr. Paulo Suess, one of the key drafters of the Amazon Synod's working document, that they both went for studies to the Lumen Vitae Institute in Belgium. (Notice how these two priests both come from Europe. Perani is Italian, and Suess is German.)

At a commemoration of Fr. Perani upon the tenth anniversary of his death, at which two collaborators of the preparatory team of the Amazon Synod participated, Perani was called a “forerunner of the Church of Pope Francis.”

Important for the history of REPAM is the fact that IT had met, in July of 2011 in Quito, Ecuador, Mauricio Lopez – then secretary of Caritas Ecuador – for the sake of a closer collaboration. The next year, in August of 2012, Lopez participated at the XI Inter-American Meeting at an IT retreat which was led by Egydio Schwade (here in a picture with Bishop Kräutler), one of the founders of CIMI who was once CIMI's general secretary. “This meeting was fundamental to continue weaving a vision, a mission, and a missionary body in the Amazon, that crosses borders [going beyond Brazil, into Ecuador],” states the report by IT. Subsequently, it then came to the above-mentioned meeting in April of 2013 in Puyo, Ecuador, as organized by Caritas Ecuador. Two more meetings were to follow in 2013, one being organized by CELAM, the Conference of Latin American Bishops. Lopez and IT were always present.

As can be seen here, the history of REPAM itself goes even back to a time before Pope Francis' pontificate. In 2019, Mauricio Lopez is being praised by Bishop Rafael Cob as “the great architect of the ecclesial network REPAM.”

July 2013: Pope Francis visits Brazil, which is the country where Cardinal Hummes and Bishop Kräutler live and work. Hummes and Kräutler are, together with Cardinal Barreto from Peru the key prelates to promote the Amazon Synod.

Pope Francis hints at thinking about new ways of helping the native clergy by being open and “courageous.” He says to the Brazilian Bishops: “There is a need for quality formators, especially formators and professors of theology, for consolidating the results achieved in the area of training a native clergy and providing priests suited to local conditions and committed to consolidating, as it were, the Church’s “Amazonian face”. In this, please, I ask you, be courageous, and have parrhesia! In the “porteño” language [of Buenos Aires], be fearless.” Here, Pope Francis, three months after his election, speaks already of the idea of an “Amazonian face.”

December 17, 2013: Pope Francis writes an encouraging letter to a January meeting of Basic Ecclesial Conferences (BEC) in Brazil, with 4,000 participants, thereby giving the impression that these communities are making a “comeback.” Quoting the 2007 Aparecida document, Pope Francis writes: “As the Document of Aparecida recalled, BECs are an instrument that allows people 'to attain greater knowledge of the Word of God, a greater social commitment in the name of the Gospel, for the birth of new forms of lay service and adult education in the faith (n. 178).” The Basic Ecclesial Communities had been created by representatives of Liberation Theology and were often in danger of prioritizing social issues over matters of the Catholic Faith.

2014: Joining forces

April 4, 2014: Bishop Kräutler, upon encouragement and recommendation of Cardinal Hummes, has a private audience with Pope Francis. He takes his close collaborator, the theological advisor of CIMI – Paulo Suess – along to the meeting. As Kräutler said in 2015 about this meeting: “I referred first to our communities and regretted that because of the great shortage of ordained ministers they only have access to the Eucharist a few times a year.” According to later reports by Kräutler, the Pope then brought up the ideas of Bishop Fritz Lobinger – that is to say, to ordain married men – as well as the experiences of Chiapas in Mexico, where a local bishop – Samuel Ruiz García, Bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas – was ordaining many indigenous married deacons. This latter practice had been stopped in 2001 by the Vatican, but Pope Francis was to allow it again in 2014. He also visited Bishop Ruiz' grave when visiting Mexico in 2015. It is in this context that Pope Francis told Kräutler to make “bold proposals” with regard to the shortage of priests. 

Furthermore, Pope Francis also invited Bishop Kräutler to help him write his encyclical Laudato Si. Says the Austrian bishop: “Then the Pope revealed to me that he was thinking of writing an encyclical on Ecology and had already commissioned Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to elaborate a draft. I insisted that such an important document could not lack a clear reference to the Amazon and the indigenous peoples. The Pope then asked me to collaborate by sending to the Cardinal some of my contributions in this regard, which I did immediately upon returning to Brazil. Reading the Encyclical [Laudato Si] now, I come across several numbers of the document, in which the Pope took into account our anxieties and concerns and really took them as his own concerns.”

Still in 2014, Cardinal Hummes and Bishop Kräutler bring up the idea of ordaining married men in the frame of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, and a new commission is being set up, with Hummes as President and Kräutler as secretary. Counselor to this commission is Antonio de Almeida, a Lobinger expert who later was also invited to participate in a preparatory meeting for the Amazon Synod in Bogotà, Colombia.

September 12, 2014: REPAM was officially founded in Brasilia, at a September 9-12 gathering in Brasilia, Brazil. The founding members are CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference ), Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Men and Women Religious (CLAR), Caritas Secretariat for Latin America and the Caribbean (SELAC), and the Brazilian Bishops' Conference (CNBB). The Vatican published its founding document. At a press conference in Rome, with Cardinal Peter Turkson and Archbishop Barreto present, Cardinal Hummes – the President of REPAM – sent a message that the churches in the region decided to create this network (REPAM) so as to join forces together, support and encourage each other, and “to have a prophetic and ever more important voice at the international level.” 

CIMI and many other organizations and NGOs are involved in the network. Unfortunately, REPAM has not responded to any of LifeSiteNews's requests to receive a full list of who specifically is a member or collaborator of REPAM.

The Vice-President of REPAM, Archbishop Barreto, later is to draw a connection between REPAM and the 2007 Aparecida conference. According to a CNS report, Barreto himself was influenced by that conference and its discussions about environmental and indigenous issues. CNS quotes Mauricio Lopez as saying that Barreto was impressed by “the courage and prophetic clarity of the bishops there, especially the Brazilian bishops (who) fought tirelessly to make the Amazon a major priority.” As CNS adds: “Sections on environmental and indigenous issues were included in the final conference document, and Pope Francis — who as cardinal of Buenos Aires at the time led the commission that drafted the document — referred to them frequently in his encyclical, Laudato Si’.” 

2015: Vatican thanked for supporting Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network

March 2, 2015: The Vatican hosts a press conference presenting REPAM to the public. 

REPAM expressed its gratitude to Cardinal Turkson for helping and sponsoring REPAM: “Our thanks to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the person in Cardinal Peter Turkson's team and all for their invaluable support in the process of growth of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network.”

Cardinal Turkson himself then commented: “For several years, some Latin American churches have organized to meet the regional challenges of the Amazonian environment. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which is following with interest these initiatives, wanted to accompany and sponsor the Ecclesial Network Panamazzonica (REPAM) since its creation in September in Brasilia. At the meeting of coordination that will begin this afternoon, we present with great pleasure REPAM here.”

2017: Pope Francis convokes Synod of Bishops on Pan-Amazon Region

April 24, 2017: REPAM visits Washington, D.C., being invited also by the Jesuits. The REPAM group was advocating for their rights to land and clean water.  Among the REPAM members are Cardinal Hummes and Cardinal Barreto.

October 15, 2017: Pope Francis convokes the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon Region during his Angelus. The Synod is said to have been born out of Pope Francis’s 2015 environmental encyclical,  Laudato si, which calls for a “lifestyle and spirituality” to resist the “technocratic paradigm.” 

November 27-30, 2017: In Quito, Ecuador, there took place a first gathering organized by REPAM which discusses the upcoming Amazon Synod. Participants at this gathering were, among others, four representatives of the Itinerary Team, as well as all several people who would then soon be called by Pope Francis to help organize the Synod: Peter Hughes, Paulo Suess, Justino Sarmento, Mauricio Lopez, and Sister Irene Lopes.

2018: Pope Francis champions pagan ‘native...spirituality’ of indigenous peoples

January 19, 2018: Pope Francis convoked the first pre-synodal council meeting during his apostolic visit to Puerto Maldonado, Perù. During this visit, the Pope directly addresses the indigenous peoples. Speaking to the native tribes, Pope Francis says: “Thank you for being here and for helping us to see closer up, in your faces, the reflection of this land. It is a diverse face, one of infinite variety and enormous biological, cultural and spiritual richness. Those of us who do not live in these lands need your wisdom and knowledge to enable us to enter into, without destroying, the treasures that this region holds.” 

Pope Francis states he wanted to “reaffirm with you a heartfelt option for the defence of life, the defence of the earth and the defence of cultures.” Furthermore, he assures his audience that he wishes to dialogue with the natives peoples, “acknowledging and recovering their native cultures, languages, traditions, rights and spirituality.”

Implying that the time of the colonization has been a period of pain, Pope Francis explains that “Recognition and dialogue will be the best way to transform relationships whose history is marked by exclusion and discrimination.” He also wishes that the “Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation” (PIAV) have their own rights respected. About these peoples, the Pope says that “their cosmic vision and their wisdom, have much to teach those of us who are not part of their culture.” 

Pope Francis, by bringing up these topics – as well as the call for “the protection of our common home”  – presents here already themes of the upcoming Amazon Synod. He also echoes much of what Bishop Kräutler and his indigenous missionary team have said over many years.

March 8, 2018: Pope Francis appointed 18 members of the pre-synodal council, among them are Cardinal Hummes, Cardinal Turkson, Cardinal Barreto, and Bishop Kräutler. From the 18 members, only three are explicitly mentioned in their capacity of representatives of REPAM: Hummes, Barreto, and Mauricio Lopez (here in a photo with Pope Francis.) In reality, however, research shows that more than half of the members of the pre-synodal council are directly involved with REPAM – either as regional representatives of REPAM (as for example in the case of Bishops Eugenio Coter and Rafael Cob Garcia), or as the President of CIMI (in the case of Monsignore Roque Paloschi) which itself is a member of REPAM. One of the members of the council is Sister Maria Irene Lopes de los Santos, who is the executive secretary of REPAM Brazil, a fact that is omitted when she is listed as a council member. Nor is it told that she also works for Hummes and Kräutler at the Amazon commission belonging to the Brazilian Bishops' Conference.

Another member of the pre-synodal council is Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Mexico City. He met Pope Francis in April of 2013 as President of CELAM, along with its other officers, shortly after Francis' election. They reportedly discussed the ongoing implementation of Aparecida. and Retes – who knows Pope Francis well – said that “Pope Francis is the one — if not the one who most – certainly expresses in his attitudes and words the theological-pastoral development of Aparecida.”

According to Crux, as vice-president of CELAM from 2003 to 2007, Aguiar Retes worked closely with Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires in the run-up to the fifth CELAM assembly in May 2007.” The report further explains that “Aparecida is the blueprint for Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the November 2013 exhortation widely described as the Magna Carta of Francis’s papacy.” 

One could add that, when visiting Brazil in July of 2013, Pope Francis presented his own updated Aparecida document in an address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America CELAM.

Next to the fact that the pre-synodal council seems to be stacked against a variety of theological positions, what is nearly worse – and an additional sign that transparency is not a characteristic of this Synod – is the fact that three members of the five-member-committee tasked with the drafting of both the preparatory document and the working document of the Synod are directly and intimately involved with REPAM. They are: Dr. Paulo Suess, a leading theologian of Liberation Theology who is thought to be the main architect of the Amazon Synod's working document, Fr. Pedro Hughes (of REPAM; he once published a book in honor of Gustavo Gutierrez upon his 80th Birthday), and the Brazilian sociologist Marcia de Oliveira (who also works for REPAM). The fourth member, Fr. Justino Sarmento, studied at the post-graduate program for missionary studies in Sao Paulo that had been founded by Fr. Suess. The anthropologist Fr. Fernando Roca Alcázar, S.J. does not seem to have a close connection to REPAM, except perhaps through his Jesuit channels. As we have said earlier, the Jesuits were heavily involved in the formation of REPAM, by way of the Itinerary Team. Cardinal Barreto is a Jesuit, as well, and he is a representative of the Peruvian bishops at the Pontifical University of Peru, where Fr. Roca teaches.

As Paulo Suess states in an interview, it was REPAM itself that was tasked with the writing of the preparatory document: “Repam was entrusted with the task of constructing the first version of the Preparatory Document, with instructions from the President of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri. Then, REPAM asked the five experts, chosen by various authorities and appointed by Claudio Hummes, to elaborate, in record time, a text of two or three pages from their specialty. […] This initial text was revised by the Secretariat of the Synod in Rome, which restructured it without any major interventions of content. It was then presented to the Pre-Synodal Council, which discussed it in the presence of the Pope, and which had every possibility of interfering and proposing changes.”

The Vatican's Press Office told LifeSiteNews in August of 2019 that “in the second half of 2018 and up to now there have been 262 events in response to the consultation, including territorial assemblies, thematic forums and conversation work groups in the Pan-Amazon. According to the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM), 87,000 people participated in the process, involving communities, parishes, prelatures and dioceses in the 9 countries making up the Amazon.”

2019: Amazon Synod working document released

February 2019: The Vatican organized a three-day conference in preparation for the Amazon Synod, with more than 80 participants from all over the world. 

March 2019: REPAM goes to Washington, D.C. in order to present the Amazon Synod and some of its main goals. The Jesuits are involved in hosting the group.

April 4-6, 2019: There quietly took place a conference organized by REPAM and Amerindia, a group of liberation theologians, which then produced a larger document questioning many tenets of the Catholic Church's doctrine. It calls, for example, for the ordination of female deacons, if not of female priests. The German relief agency Misereor co-funded the booklet.

May 14-15, 2019: The second meeting of the pre-synodal council took place in the Vatican, with the council approving the Synod's Working Document. 

June 17, 2019: The Working Document (Instrumentum Laboris) for the October 6-27 Pan-Amazon Synod was published.

June 26, 2019: There took place a secret study meeting near Rome, with Cardinals Hummes and Kasper, Bishop Kräutler, Paulo Suess, and many other key figures present. A final statement of that event called for female deacons. One of the participants of this event is Father Michael Czerny, a co-secretary of the Amazon Synod's pre-synodal council. Upon request for information, Czerny declined to answer, referring LifeSiteNews abstractly to the website of REPAM. He has just been named as one of the 13 prelates soon to be made cardinals.

July 2019: Fr. Pirmin Spiegel – participant at the February Rome conference and head of Misereor, a German episcopal relief agency heavily involved in funding the Synod – proposes the ordination of married men and of female deacons.

Steering of Synod?

This short overview gives the impression that the Amazon Synod is being organized mostly by a close-knit group of people who have been working for years together, trying to advance their agenda that is influenced by Liberation Theology. The fact that this is not being disclosed – not even upon media request – supports the suspicion that this synod, too, is being steered into a certain direction, as it was the case with the two family synods.

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.