VATICAN CITY — Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino is both hopeful and apprehensive about the upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, seeing it as serving a worthwhile aim but also wary of the danger of focusing too much on ecology and social aspects rather than the Church’s “proper mission” of evangelization.
In a Sept. 26 email interview with the Register, the archbishop emeritus of Caracas also echoes the concerns expressed by Cardinal Robert Sarah and other Church leaders that some people plan to use the Oct. 6-27 meeting and the pastoral needs of those in the Amazon as a pretext to introduce major Church reforms.
Cardinal Urosa also gives an update on the current crisis situation in Venezuela, the approach of the Pope and the Holy See to the internal conflict there, and the chances of forming a new Venezuelan government.
Your Eminence, what, to you, are the main positive and negative aspects of the upcoming Synod on the Amazon?
The positive aspects: the defense of the Amazonian territory and its inhabitants from unjust, irrational and harmful exploitation; also the attention given to the indigenous people of Amazonia. In the religious field, the effort to revitalize the Church in Amazonia, especially in the indigenous communities.
The negative aspects: a tendency of some of the promoters of the synod to care more about the ecology and social aspects than about the main and proper mission of the Church, which is to preach the Gospel and to extend the Kingdom of God. Also negative is something external to the synod itself: the danger that some people want to use the pastoral needs of some people of Amazonia as a pretext to introduce major reforms in the Church and in other places.
What are your hopes for the outcome of the meeting, particularly for the part of the Amazon region in Venezuela?
I have hopes in two areas: in the ecological and social field, to stop the irrational and unjust destruction of territory in the so-called Arco Minero, or “Mining Crescent,” south of the Orinoco River. In the religious area: that our Church in Venezuela give more attention and support to our missions in the Amazonia region.
How serious is the shortage of priests in the Amazon? Is it so serious that it demands a change to mandatory celibacy in the Latin Rite and perhaps the introduction of women deacons?
Yes, the scarcity of priests is serious and has to do also with the decline of vocations to the priesthood in the Church in Europe. However, that scarcity may be overcome in time, as it has been before, with a better distribution of priests around the world. There is an increase of vocations in India, Vietnam, the Philippines. Over longer time, it can be overcome through better evangelization, improved work with youth and with a more intense work in pastoral vocations. That has been very fruitful in some regions of Venezuela, such as Falcón, Carabobo, Anzoategui, Aragua and Monagas.
On the other hand, such a breach in priestly celibacy would bring many pastoral and practical difficulties. But especially in the religious aspect, it would go against the identification of the priest with Jesus Christ in virtue of his consecration and dedication to God and to the people of the Church, acting as Christ himself did.
Cardinal Robert Sarah has said he is “shocked and outraged that the spiritual distress of the poor in the Amazon is being used as a pretext to support projects that are typical of bourgeois and worldly Christianity.” How concerned are you that some, particularly in the Church in Germany, are pushing for changes at the synod and, as we’ve seen, funding the meeting, in order to promote an agenda at odds with the Church’s teaching and Tradition?
Regarding the pretext for changes in Europe, some people see a danger and a temptation to use the pastoral distress and needs of the poor in this synod as a pretext to introduce important changes in the life and sacramental discipline of the Church in other parts of the world. I hope that will not happen. It would be a shame!
What is the current situation in Venezuela, and do you see any chance of a change in government in the coming months? What has happened to the prospect of prospective leader Juan Guaidó taking over as president?
The socioeconomic situation of the Venezuelan people is every day worse than before. To give an example: A year ago, one [U.S.] dollar was worth 60 Venezuelan bolivars. Today one dollar is worth 21,000 bolivars. And the ones who most suffer from this horror are the poor. That is why there are around 4 million Venezuelans now living outside the country.
Is there any chance of a change? I don’t see it in the coming months. Regarding Guaidó, he is doing a fine job, but the government has all the resources and the keys of power.
Some have criticized the Pope for being too silent in his criticisms of the Nicolás Maduro regime. Do you agree with this, and is there a difference of approach between the approach of Cardinal Pietro Parolin and the Secretariat of State and that of the Holy Father, as some have speculated?
Regarding the Pope and our government, Pope Francis has made more than 10 public appeals for changes in our situation, and he has sent at least two private letters to President Maduro asking him to change. But he cannot tell Maduro to go away. That is up to us Venezuelans. We Venezuelan bishops are doing that, and we are in perfect communion with Pope Francis. And Cardinal Parolin is doing a great job as a secretary of state for the Pope and as a real brother to the Venezuelan Church and the people.
The Pope has spoken very clearly to Maduro. He asked him in December 2016 to keep his promises of conditions for a real dialogue; Maduro did not keep them. And the Vatican stepped away from political dialogue between Venezuela’s political adversaries. On the other hand, the Vatican does not usually fight any government in order to ask them to leave power.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.