Amazon Synod Leaders: Working Document Is Basis for Discussion, Not ‘Magisterial’

At a Vatican news conference today, the synod’s general relator and the Synod of Bishops’ general secretary downplayed the widespread concerns the document has generated.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, addressed reporters Oct. 3.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, addressed reporters Oct. 3. (photo: Edward Pentin photo)

VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon Region is the result of two years’ preparation that consulted 80,000 people, and so will be an event of “serious listening,” the general relator of the monthlong meeting said today.

Responding to widespread criticism of the meeting’s working document, or instrumentum laboris, Cardinal Claudio Hummes told reporters at the Vatican that the document “is not by the synod; it is for the synod,” and so is “really the voice of the local Church of Amazonia.”

“Pope Francis has always highlighted that we should truly listen,” the Brazilian cardinal said, and he sought to reassure critics that, “eventually after the synod, everything will be cum Petro et sub Petro [with Peter and under Peter].”

The synod working document, which will form the basis of the discussions for the Oct. 6-27 Synod on “New Paths for the Church and for Integral Theology,” has been strongly criticized as being, among other things, heretical and constituting what Cardinal Walter Brandmüller called an “attack on the foundations of the faith.” 

So concerned have some been about the content of the working document that Cardinal Raymond Burke and Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider called for a crusade of prayer and fasting for a period of 40 days so errors will not be approved, and a number of prelates, clergy and lay faithful have listed four elements of the working document that they consider “unacceptable” and referred to its inconsistency with Church teaching.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, told reporters he had “read the criticism” and that he hoped it was “not fake news.” Downplaying the negative reaction, he gave as an example of news reports exaggerating when the whole of Rome comes to a standstill due to a “puddle” in the city.

The cardinal, who stressed several times during the news conference that the instrumentum laboris is “not a pontifical document,” said if a cardinal or a bishop “is not in agreement with the contents,” then it is “necessary to listen and not judge, because it is not a magisterial document.”

Instead, he said the document recounts the basis and “synthesis” of responses to questions from surveys and is a means to “begin work and construct the final document from zero.”

The Italian Curial diplomat said the synod does not need to follow “precisely” what the working document contains, but merely refer to it as a guide for discussions. The synod, he said, is a “consultative body” whose work is to produce a final document that will “help the Holy Father to decide” on a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.


Celibacy Questions

Answering questions on clerical celibacy and whether moves will be made to implement viri probati — the ordination of married men of “proven virtue” to bring the Eucharist to remote rural areas — Cardinal Baldisseri said the synod fathers “are free to express themselves, and discuss this topic, and come up with proposals.”

Cardinal Hummes said “70%-80% of communities in the Amazon have a limited sacramental life. They have the word of God, but not the sacraments, which are missing, a gap between charity and mercy.” He added that in the region’s rural areas, people have “limited sacramental life, except for baptism and marriages,” and possibilities for catechesis.

“Very few receive the Eucharist,” he said, and he referred to comments of Pope St. John Paul, that the Church “lives out of the Eucharist, which builds the Church.”

The issue of possibly allowing the ordination of married men at the synod has been the focus of much criticism. The concern is that allowing the exception will undermine mandatory priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite, especially as some Church leaders in the West, notably in Germany, have expressed the hope that it will pave the way for married priests in other areas where vocations are few. Cardinal Hummes is also known as a longtime advocate of allowing married clergy.

Asked if the Church is ready to discuss greater participation of women (the working document calls for new ministries for women), Cardinal Hummes said the Church is “not afraid” of the issue and “must pay attention to the Holy Spirit.” He said it is possible to know “what the Holy Spirit is telling us” by “listening to the voices of the people and the Earth.”

In his prepared remarks, Cardinal Baldisseri pointed out that unlike the “ordinary” and “extraordinary” synods (those that respectively relate to the universal Church and emergencies), this “special assembly” is “not a partial representation” of bishops, but “all the prelates of the region are convened, thus highlighting collegiality.”

But he also stressed the universal dimension to this regional synod, noting that the participation of prelates from other Churches, the heads of Curial dicasteries, and the 33 members personally appointed by the Pope “highlights the link” between this special assembly “and the universal Church.”

The cardinal said 184 synod fathers will be taking part, 113 of whom will be from the region (French Guyana, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru). So, too, will 17 representatives of “original peoples and indigenous ethnic groups, including nine women” (the total number of women participating is 35).


‘Dual’ Focus

Cardinal Baldisseri said the synod will have a “dual” focus: the “evangelizing mission” of the Church in the Amazon, which places “the salvation of Jesus Christ at its center,” and “the ecological theme,” which will underline the interconnectedness of man, culture and his environment.

He said the synod secretariat has tried to do its part to help the environment by eliminating paper in its communications, limiting the use of plastic (glasses at the synod will be made of biodegradable material) and using bags made of “natural fiber” and paper with a certified “origin and processing chain.”

In his prepared remarks, Cardinal Hummes stressed the “urgent” socioenvironmental crisis that will be the focus of the meeting. This he pinpointed as, firstly, the “climate crisis”; secondly, the “ecological crisis” related to degradation and contamination of the planet; and, thirdly, the “social crisis of blatant poverty,” especially affecting indigenous communities.”

He, too, underlined the interconnectedness of human beings, community and social life, as well as the importance of “integral ecology” and the need for “an ecological conversion, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi.”

Also speaking at today’s news conference was Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, who outlined the procedures in the month ahead. After months of preparation, he said the synod now enters its “celebratory phase,” which is the synod proper.

Following an opening report by Cardinal Baldisseri outlining the synodal path, Cardinal Hummes will issue his own report, expected Monday, presenting the findings from the preparatory phase and the main topics to be discussed in the hall and the circoli minori, or small working groups.

Participants will be allocated four-minute interventions (talks) during general congregations in the synod hall, followed by “free interventions” by the synod fathers in any remaining time.

The small groups’ contributions and synod hall interventions will then contribute to preparations for the final document, to be put together by Cardinal Hummes and two special secretaries — Msgr. David Martinez de Aguirre of Peru and Cardinal-elect Michael Czerny —  after which amendments can be proposed for the final draft, which will be voted on.

Bishop Fabene said although synod fathers can give interviews, as in the last synods, their interventions “will not be officially published.” The Holy See Press Office will, however, be releasing reports from the working groups.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.