Vatican to Publish Amazonian Synod’s Working Document Next Week

The instrumentum laboris follows publication of the preparatory document last year which calls on the Church to listen to indigenous peoples, but which critics say promotes a “cultural recycling of liberation theology.”

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, at the Vatican Press Office on Oct. 1, 2018
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, at the Vatican Press Office on Oct. 1, 2018 (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has announced it will publish the working document for the upcoming Amazonian synod Monday.

The document, known as an instrumentum laboris, will act as a basis for discussion for the synod of bishops which will be held in October on the theme “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”

It follows publication last summer of a preparatory document on the synod, circulated to bishops, that said a strong emphasis will be put on “listening to indigenous people” and a “culture of encounter” which entails “greater closeness.”

It referred to a Church called to “deepen her identity” by listening to the “wisdom of her peoples,” invited to “find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church,” and to “respond to situations of injustice in the region.”

“Enlivening a Church with an Amazonian face requires missionaries to possess the ability to discover the seeds and fruits of the Word already present in a people’s worldview,” the document states. “This requires a stable presence and knowledge of the native language, culture, and spiritual background. Only in this way will the Church make Christ's life present in these peoples.”

Presenting that document last year, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, stressed that the synod will have consequences beyond merely the Amazon region as topics for discussion “regard the whole Church and also the future of the planet.”

He said “priority must be given to the native peoples who live there” but “attention will be paid to the theme of the environment, ecology, and care for creation, our common home.”

“All this will be presented in the light of the teaching and life of the Church, working in the region,” he said.

But some observers of the synod, such as José Antonio Ureta of the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute, are concerned that the meeting will act as a forum for those in the Church who have long promoted so-called Indian theology.

Such a theology, Ureta contends, is no more than a “cultural recycling of liberation theology” — the theology criticized by the Vatican in 1984 for its use of Marxist categories — which aims to recover traditional indigenous religious thinking in order to form a “synthesis” with Catholic theology.

But Ureta adds that Benedict XVI warned in 2007 against attempts to create a “utopia” that would seek to “breathe life into the pre-Columbian [pre-evangelized] religions.” Efforts to separate them “from Christ and from the universal Church would not be a step forward, it would be a step back,” he said.

Benedict added that the “wisdom of the indigenous peoples fortunately led them to form a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith which the missionaries were offering them. Hence the rich and profound popular religiosity, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples.”

Among other possibilities at the synod is that it will lead to the ordination of older married men, so-called viri probati, as a possible solution to priest shortages in the region. The possibility has raised concerns that allowing such an exception would signal the end of mandatory priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a close theological adviser to the Holy Father, said last week that he thought the Pope would agree to such a change if the bishops of the region asked him for it.

Many will therefore be interested to see if these concerns make their way into the instrumentum laboris.

As well as Cardinal Baldisseri, also presenting the document Monday will be Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, and Jesuit Father Miguel Humberto Yáñez, an Argentine professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

A friend of Pope Francis, Father Yáñez organized a controversial series of talks on Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. In 2017, he took part in a book presentation at the Gregorian in which it was argued that Amoris Laetitia represents a paradigm shift for all moral theology. In 2015 he participated in a “secret synod” at the Gregorian during which a number of theologians sought to sway the Synod on the Family to accept same-sex unions, dispense with the term “intrinsically evil,” and introduce a novel “theology of love.”