In an unexpected outcome, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Amazon Synod stays silent over the question of ordaining married deacons, instead shifting attention to the need for greater “inculturation” of the Church’s message in the Amazon region.
Querida Amazonia, the Pope’s reflection on the Amazon Synod that took place in October 2019, has been published today (12 February).
The document makes no mention of the Viri Probati question — ordination of married deacons — that dominated debate at the time of the synod, and during the run-up to the publication of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation.
Though Pope Francis begins the letter by saying he “officially presents” the final document of the synod fathers, in which ordination for married deacons was approved by a two-thirds majority, the question of celibacy remains absent from Querida Amazonia.
Instead, the Amazon Synod exhortation aims to recenter focus on the Amazon region, the plight of its people, and the ecological crisis that it is undergoing. And in so doing, calls for the Church in the region to take on “Amazonian features”.
“Inculturation elevates and fulfils,” Francis writes, “we should esteem the indigenous mysticism that sees the interconnection and interdependence of the whole of creation, the mysticism of gratuitousness that loves life as a gift, the mysticism of a sacred wonder before nature and all its forms of life.”
However, the absence of any mention of Viri Probati will likely generate much debate.
The question of Viri Probati arose out of an understanding that for many communities in the region, the sacrament of the eucharist — which Pope Francis defines as that which “makes the Church” — is often unavailable. It was suggested, by the synod fathers in October 2019, that allowing married deacons ordination would increase the pastoral presence of the Church in the region.
Francis acknowledges this within his letter, writing that “every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness.”
The document also states that “efforts need to be made to configure ministry in such a way that it is at the service of a more frequent celebration of the Eucharist”, and further adds “the way of shaping priestly life and ministry is not monolithic; it develops distinctive traits in different parts of the world.”
However, this silence may not necessarily imply that the Viri Probaiti question is closed. Rather, by mentioning the pastoral need in the region, and the “healthy sense of indignation” that arises out of it, it is possible that it will be dealt with in the future — possibly in the form of a Motu Proprio.
Similarly, Francis’ opening paragraphs in the Amazon Synod exhortation — which Novena has learnt was redacted in its current form on 27 December 2019 — acknowledge the inherent authority of the final synod document, which he mentions “profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region.”
Querida Amazonia, nevertheless, does make claims calling for increased lay ministries in the region, including for women.
“The present situation requires us to encourage the emergence of other forms of service and charisms that are proper to women,” Francis states, “and responsive to the specific needs of the peoples of the Amazon region at this moment in history.”
However, surrounding the question of women deacons, the document warns against “a reductionism [that] would lead us to believe that women would be granted a greater status and participation in the Church only if they were admitted to Holy Orders”, which “would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective.”
“A Church of Amazonian features requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders,” the letter reads, “endowed with authority and familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one.”
To further the inculturated presence of the Church in the region, Francis encourages “the growth of the collaborative efforts being made through the Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network and other associations” to implement a collaborative ministry among the local churches of the Amazon.
Francis also echoes calls for greater ecological attention made throughout his pontificate, criticising both “national governments” exploiting the Amazon region and globalisation which risks becoming a “new version of colonialism”.
“The businesses, national or international, which harm the Amazon and fail to respect the right of the original peoples to the land and its boundaries, and to self-determination and prior consent, should be called for what they are: injustice and crime”, Francis writes.