Whatever Pope Francis wrote in this week’s apostolic exhortation on the Amazon, the impact of his text was always expected to reach far beyond the region it addressed.
Querida Amazonia, published Wednesday, offered a serious treatment of the situation facing the Church in parts of South America. It addressed the environment, social and cultural issues, and the importance of evangelization and inculturation among indigenous peoples.
But most of the reaction to the document focused not on what it said, but on what it did not say. Specifically, the pope ignored – perhaps pointedly – the calls made at last year’s Synod on the Amazon for the ordination of married men to the priesthood, and for consideration of some kind of female diaconate.
While these ideas were presented in the synod’s final document within the narrow context of the Amazon’s special circumstances, synodal participants made no efforts to conceal that their intended scope for the recommendations went far beyond Amazonia.
The bishops of Germany, notably, were clear that these proposals – and the pope’s expected favorable reception of them – would be a crucial support for the “binding synodal process” unfolding in their own country.
Together with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the bishops opened that process at the beginning of Advent last year. The aim of the participants, by their own admission, is to “reform” the Church in Germany by doing away with clerical celibacy, bringing in the ordination of women, and allowing the Church to recognize and bless same-sex unions.
After a back-and-forth with the Vatican last year, in which first Pope Francis, along with several senior curial officials, rejected the German synod’s plans and priorities, anticipation was high that the Amazonian exhortation would provide new cover for the German agenda.
In light of all that, the pope’s silence this week on the issue of celibacy, and his words on the importance and dignity of women’s ministry outside of the clerical state, were seen, at least by the ZdK, as a defeat for their progressive aims.
“This letter is of course the view of the situation in the Amazon region,” the committee said in a statement issued in response to Querida Amazonia, which apparently sought to limit the scope of an intervention they had initially intended to broaden.
The ZdK said that, before the pope issued his exhortation, “expectations regarding concrete steps towards reform, especially with regard to access to the priestly office and the role of women, were very high.”
“Unfortunately, he does not find the courage to implement real reforms on the issues of consecration of married men and the liturgical skills of women that have been discussed for 50 years.”
“Rather, [the exhortation] strengthens the existing positions of the Roman Church both in terms of access to the priesthood and the participation of women in ministries and ministries.”
Yet, even while Querida Amazonia “strengthens of the existing positions of the Roman Church,” there are no signs the exhortation will slow, let alone halt, the German’s progressive synodal march.
The ZdK claimed in their statement that “with this message, [Francis] encourages us in our Church in Germany to continue the synodal path that we started very successfully.”
Read more at Catholic World Report