Report: New Amazon Bishops’ Conference to Be Announced?

The Holy See has not confirmed a Brazilian website’s claim that the new conference, which was recommended last fall in the Amazon Synod’s final report, is about to be announced.

Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, in St. Peter's Basilica, Oct. 27, 2019.
Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, in St. Peter's Basilica, Oct. 27, 2019. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Nine months since the Pan-Amazon Synod in Rome, the creation of an Amazonian bishops’ conference to promote synodality among the region’s churches could be announced on Monday, according to Brazilian media reports.

The Brazilian website Instituto Humanitas Unisinos reported June 23 that an announcement was expected on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, although it pointed out that the proposal had faced “significant resistance” from members of the Roman Curia “recalcitrant to any changes.”

The Register asked the Holy See Press Office if it could confirm the news but it did not reply before this article was published.

Synod fathers proposed such a bishops’ conference in article no. 115 of their final document on the Amazon synod last October. They put forward the possibility of “a bishops’ organism” that not only “promotes synodality” among the region’s churches, but also “helps express the Amazonian face of this Church.”

An episcopal conference for the Amazon would “continue the task of finding new paths for the evangelizing mission, especially incorporating the proposal of integral ecology, thus strengthening the physiognomy of the Church in the Amazon,” they suggested.

The synod fathers said it would be a “permanent and representative bishops’ organism” connected with both the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), which was largely responsible for last year’s Amazon Synod, and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Latin America (CELAM). It would also have “its own structure, in a simple organization.”

“So constituted, it can be the effective instrument in the territory of the Latin American and Caribbean Church for taking up many of the proposals that emerged in this Synod,” the synod fathers argued. “It would be the nexus for developing Church and socio-environmental networks and initiatives at the continental and international levels.”

Cardinal Pedro Barreto S.J., REPAM’s vice president, said in a recent interview such a conference would be “an offering to the Pope and the Amazon.”

 The Pope made no explicit reference to such an ecclesial body in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Amazonian Synod, Querida Amazonia. But in his closing speech of the Synod last October, he referred to the existence of episcopal conferences, semi-episcopal conferences, and regional conferences in other parts of the world, and asked why the concept of smaller bishops’ conferences could not be applied in the Amazon.

Churches in nine countries are expected to participate in such a body, but Cardinal Barreto said there would be “no nationalisms, nor divisions by nations” but rather a body that represents the “Church of a region” and which “seeks the protection of a very important asset.”

He also said the new body has the “full support of the indigenous people, the laity, religious and bishops and so it will be very strong.”

It is a means of evangelization using a “method of decentralization that the Pope is promoting,” the cardinal added. “We are very much with him right now.”   

REPAM has effectively served as a kind of precursor to the Amazonian bishops’ conference, representing the nine national Churches of the region.

Co-founded in 2014 by CELAM, the Confederation of Latin American Religious (CLAR), Caritas, and the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon of the Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), along with the Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, REPAM’s purpose has been to bring to the world’s attention the fragile situation of indigenous people in the Amazon and the environmental threats facing the region.

However, accusations arose during the synod that it was politicizing the synod and questions were raised at the meeting over documentation showing organizations belonging to REPAM had received significant funding from the pro-abortion Ford Foundation.

REPAM’s president is Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who served as the relator general of the Amazon Synod.