VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) In a historic declaration — delighting traditionalists and infuriating progressives — Pope Francis emphatically rejected the ordination of women and married men, the advocacy of religious pluralism and support for a compromised ecumenism in his apostolic exhortation on the Amazon Synod.
Titled Querida Amazonía, the exhortation seemed to signal a paradigm shift in the pontificate of Francis, as it resoundingly affirmed the evangelization of the Amazonian peoples in the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians: "We are not ashamed of Jesus Christ" and "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"
The much-anticipated final document, released to the media on Wednesday afternoon, provoked questions as to the magisterial authority of the exhortation and whether the papal declaration had closed the door to controversial proposals like the ordination of married men.
The four sections titled "dreams" and sprinkled with verses of poetry, renewed the Holy Father's plea for the care and preservation of the Amazonian forests and its indigenous peoples but refrained from using the jargon of "ecological conversion" — a term which had previously drawn fire from faithful Catholics.
Instead, the pontiff appealed for "a sound and sustainable ecology," simultaneously calling for the "need to feel outrage" as Moses and Jesus did and as "God does in the face of injustice" and evil.
While there was a "demand" for an "end to the mistreatment and destruction of Mother Earth," there was no hint of the pantheism evidenced in earlier synodal discussions, and instead of the deification of "Mother Earth," the exhortation culminated in an exaltation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as "Mother of the Amazon region."
"Let us now lift our gaze to Mary. The Mother whom Christ gave us is also the one Mother of all, who reveals herself in the Amazon region in distinct ways," Francis wrote, concluding the document with a hymn to Mary — the "Mother of Life."
The continuity with earlier synodal discussions was evidenced in the emphasis on "inculturation" and the rejection of a "monocultural and monotonous" brand of Christianity — but even this was carefully woven into the Pauline theology of "the Risen Lord who permeates all things" and the incarnational understanding of Christ becoming flesh in the matter of the Eucharist.
The lesser controversial aspects of taking into the "liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples" like their "native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols" based on the Second Vatican Council's call for "this effort to enculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples" fell far short of the demand for an Amazonian rite for the Holy Eucharist — a proposal mooted during synodal discussions.
However, the most unexpected emphasis was on the categorical rejection of ordained women ministers:
Such a reductionism would lead us to believe that women would be granted a greater status and participation in the Church only if they were admitted to Holy Orders. But that approach would in fact narrow our vision; it would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective.
In fact, "Jesus Christ appears as the Spouse of the community that celebrates the Eucharist through the figure of a man who presides as a sign of the one priest," Francis declared, elaborating how the "Lord chose to reveal his power and his love through two human faces: the face of his divine Son made man and the face of a creature, a woman, Mary. Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother."
Women should have "access to positions" but only those "that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs," and such services would require "a commission from the bishop."
The exhortation also excluded a "social gospel" that did not preach the kerygma: "Nor can we be content with a social message ... As Christians, we cannot set aside the call to faith that we have received from the gospel" and "an authentic option for the poor" would also involve "inviting them to a friendship with the Lord."
The exhortation made clear:
They have a right to hear the gospel, and above all that first proclamation, the kerygma, which is 'the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another.' It proclaims a God who infinitely loves every man and woman and has revealed this love fully in Jesus Christ, crucified for us and risen in our lives.
"Without that impassioned proclamation, every ecclesial structure would become just another NGO [non-governmental organization] and we would not follow the command given us by Christ: 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation' (Mark 16:15)," Francis stressed.
The absence of the proposal for ordaining married men of tested virtue (viri probati) was met with a recognition of the need to offer the Eucharist more frequently to the most isolated communities and a rebuke to missionaries who "go to Europe or the United States than remain to assist their own vicariates in the Amazon region."
Querida Amazonia re-emphasized the "sacrament of Holy Orders, which configures him [the priest] to Christ the priest" and insisted that "the exclusive character received in Holy Orders qualifies the priest alone to preside at the Eucharist."
Even though the Amazonian region was characterized by many religions, the exhortation warned against "watering down or concealing our deepest convictions when we encounter others who think differently than ourselves."
The problem of the proliferation of Protestant sects, which were thriving as a result of Catholics converting to them — again, a theme frequently discussed during the October synod — is to be met with the recognition that "we also have a great treasure in the seven sacraments, which some Christian communities do not accept in their totality or in the same sense." Yet the exhortation clarified "we believe firmly in Jesus as the sole Redeemer of the world" as well as cultivating "a deep devotion to His Mother" which "we feel a duty to share" even though all Christian confessions may not accept it.
However, at the press conference Cdl. Michael Czerny, while affirming the magisterial nature of the exhortation, seemed to question the finality of the Pope's pronouncement on controversial issues.
Asked if Pope Francis had closed the door on married priests, he remarked:
If there are questions you feel are open or that the Church feels are open as to the exhortation, they will be debated, discussed, discerned, prayed over and when mature, presented to the appropriate authority for decision ... So, I think, if you are looking for a kind of closure so that you can end an article with a punch, there isn't that kind of closure."
The panel at the press conference comprised Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office; Cdl. Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops; Cdl. Michael Czerny, special secretary of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region; Sr. Augusta de Oliveira S.M.R., vicar general of the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix; Fr. Adelson Araújo dos Santos, S.J., theologian and lecturer in spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University; and Prof. Carlos Nobre, scientist, Nobel Laureate 2007, member of the Environmental Sciences Commission of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development.