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‘Major setback’ to female deacons, married priests or ‘back door’ to change? Amazon exhortation reactions

The document does not rule on married priests or on female deacons while at the same time not ruling anything out. 
Wed Feb 12, 2020 - 2:13 pm EST
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Pope Francis attends the Pachamama ritual in the Vatican Gardens where a pagan 'sacred tree' planting ceremony took place, Oct. 4, 2019, Rome.

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VATICAN CITY, February 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The long-awaited post-synodal papal exhortation on the Amazon has been released. Catholics around the world have reacted in different ways to the document's refusal either to endorse or rule out married priests or female deacons. 

Italian journalist Roberto de Mattei described Querida Amazonia (“Beloved Amazon”)  in Correspondenza Romana as a major disappointment to the change-hungry “German-Amazonian” wing of the Church.  

“A slamming on the breaks on ‘viri probati’, failure of the Synod on the Amazon, open quarrel with the German-Amazonian bishops: these three points sum up the dynamic started by the post-synodal exhortation of Pope Francis,” De Mattei wrote. 

He recalled that the German-Brazilian Cardinal Hummes had sent all the bishops letters flagging text from the Synod’s final report, suggesting that Paragraph 111, which recommended married men for the priesthood, would form part of the Pope’s document. 

“However in the post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia, not only is a reference to paragraph 111 absent, but so is every other paragraph of the Final Document of the Synod, unlike what happened with Amoris Laetitia, which in its notes had cited about 80 times the final relatio of the 2015 Synod,” Mattei wrote. 

He concluded that the Synod on the Amazon was, therefore, a failure for the German-Amazonian progressives and that there will be an “explosion” among them.

Christopher Altieri of the UK’s Catholic Herald also mentioned the disappointment of progessive Catholics wanting radical changes to the priesthood.  

“People looking for revolutionary change in the Latin Church’s long-standing discipline regarding priestly celibacy — or even an opening to possible exceptions — are disappointed, as will be people who were looking for a disciplinary fix to thorny doctrinal questions, including the possibility of ordaining women to the Diaconate as it currently exists,” Altieri wrote. 

“The document does not rule on either of those hot-button issues, which occupied a significant amount of discussion time, column space, and energy both before and after the synod assembly. Querida rules nothing out. Francis’s words on the role of women, however, will not be likely to encourage advocates of admitting women to the Diaconate or restoring the Order of Deaconesses. His exhortation in any case offers no mechanism for further specific practical consideration of any question,” he added. 

“In fact, Querida doesn’t do much of anything.” 

Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN’s The World Over talk show, tweeted that Pope Francis’s “silence on priestly celibacy” was “a major setback” for German Cardinal Marx “and the progressive forces who championed a regional exception [for the Amazon] that could be expanded later.”

Arroyo also tweeted that Querida Amazonia “is a major blow to those who for decades have advocated the ordination of women.”

But Father Raymond De Souza, writing for the National Catholic Register, suggested that Pope Francis, whose Amoris Laetitia allowed Holy Communion for the divorced-and-remarried by way of a footnote, has endorsed married priests “through a back door.” 

De Souza recalled that in 2018 the pontiff promulgated a new apostolic constitution that contained the new provision that “if it is expressly approved by the Roman Pontiff, the final document [of a synod] participates in the ordinary magisterium of the Successor of Peter.”

“A non-papal document could ex post be declared part of the papal magisterium,” De Souza explained. 

He then pointed out that in the opening paragraphs of Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis wrote that he “would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately. I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full.”  

“What does ‘officially present’ mean?” De Souza demanded.

“... The ambiguous phrasing ‘officially present’ must have been chosen in part for its ambiguity. Time will tell if some bishops appeal to that ambiguity in order to advance the ordination of married priests.”

Steve Skojec at OnePeterFive also warned that the exhortation is no victory for faithful Catholics. 

“In fact, the document does not even mention the words ‘viri probati’ or ‘ordination’ or ‘celibacy.’ But that doesn’t mean the problem is gone,” he wrote.

“Most people prepared today to read the exhortation as a standalone document. That would ordinarily be a sensible approach, but in this case, it’s not possible to do so,” Skojec continued. 

“At the outset, Francis makes clear that he is presenting not only the exhortation, but also the synod’s final document — with the language” from the final document that proposes, in the words of the document, “to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family.”

According to Skojec, the “bottom line, when one connects all the dots, is that there is nothing to celebrate here. Those who were concerned with the final document have just been told that it is now a part of the pope’s magisterium.”

“One of the prelates chosen to present it has answered plainly that its proposals are still in play. Nothing has been taken off the table,” he added.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, the pro-LGBT editor-at-large of America magazine, issued a six-minute video statement, in which he too suggested that Pope Francis had left the door open to serious changes. 

“... Pope Francis is officially presenting the Synod’s final document along with Querida Amazonia, so it accompanies the exhortation as part of his teaching,” Martin said. 

“That may mean that the Synod’s proposals are still up for discussion in the future. In any case, the question of the official status of proposals included in the Synod document, but not explicitly endorsed in the exhortation, should probably be left to canon lawyers,” he continued.   

Querida Amazonia will delight some and disappoint others.” 

In an essay highly flattering to the pontiff, Austen Ivereigh of the UK’s Tablet suggested that Pope Francis had not dismissed, but merely passed over, the issue of married priests because of the deep divisions between bishops on either side of the debate. 

“Beloved Amazonia does not close off the possibility, but passes over the whole issue, putting the focus firmly on the bigger picture of how the Church and the world can see the region as God does, and act in response,” Ivereigh wrote.  

The pope’s English biographer also pointed to Francis’ wish to give official leadership positions to women serving the Church in the Amazon. 

“For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the Pope is not just following a path out of the debate over the viri probati, but looking to a whole new kind of female-specific leadership in the Church,” Ivereigh stated.

Joshua J. McElwee of the dissident National Catholic Reporter honed in on the fact that Pope Francis had not, as expected, “allowed for the priestly ordination of married men” in the Amazonian region.  McElwee noted also that the pontiff hadn’t mentioned the Synod’s discussion of women deacons in his document. However, he too highlighted Pope Francis’ spoken endorsement of the controversial Final Document of the Synod on the Amazon. McElwee also pointed out that there were fourteen citations in Querida Amazonia to the Synod’s original working document.

Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the editor of Vatican newsmagazine La Civiltà Cattolica and considered by some to be the pontiff’s mouthpiece, gave a very strong endorsement to the idea that Pope Francis’ has not discouraged the more controversial ideas in the Amazon Synod’s Final Document.  

“This is the first time that a document of such magisterial importance explicitly presents itself as a text that “accompanies” another one, namely, the synod’s Final Document, The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” Spadaro wrote. 

 “The exhortation therefore does not go beyond the Final Document, nor does it simply intend to give it its seal. Francis accepts it entirely and accompanies it, guiding its reception within the synodal journey, which is in progress and certainly cannot be said to be concluded. The pope has written this because he wants to give an impetus to the synodal process. Indeed, Francis decides this time not to quote the document at all because that would give the impression of a selection of contents. Instead, his aim is to invite a complete reading so that it may enrich, challenge and inspire the Church: these are the very three verbs used by the pontiff.”

Spadaro seemed to say that Pope Francis is reducing the papacy so that synods can have more power. 

“The Petrine ministry, with this exhortation, is clearly expressed as a ministry of accompaniment and of discernment. The synod affirms itself as a fundamental reality in the life of the Church. It has a time of preparation, a central event and a post-synodal process of implementation, of which the exhortation is part. Clearly, Francis wants to make a contribution to the reflection on the relationship between primacy and synodality, the need for which is increasingly felt.”

In conclusion, despite assurances from some conservative Catholics that progressive Catholics must be disappointed, other conservatives have suspicions―and some progressives have strong hopes―that the novel proposals of the Final Document have not yet been dismissed. 


  amazon synod, catholic, pope francis, querida amazonia

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