Laypeople, too, are lamenting Pope Francis’ “lack of courage for real reforms” on the married priesthood and the ordination of women in his apostolic exhortation on the Amazon Synod.

“Issues have been discussed for 50 years”

“With his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the Amazon Synod, Pope Francis continues the path he has chosen. He addresses the whole people of God and all people of good will in a clear and understandable, also emotional language”, the influential lay body, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said in a statement Wednesday.

“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.”

Admittedly, leading up to the Amazon Synod, “expectations regarding concrete steps towards reform, especially with regard to access to the priestly office and the role of women, were very high”, the ZdK acknowledged.

But the Committee added that “we very much regret that Pope Francis did not take a step forward” in his apostolic exhortation.

Rather, the apostolic exhortation “strengthens the existing positions of the Roman Church both in terms of access to the priesthood and the participation of women in Church offices and ministries”, the ZdK said.

Encouragement for the German Church “synodal path”

Nonetheless, the ZdK took heart in the Pope’s “conviction”, also in the apostolic exhortation, “that the Church must become a synodal church in which the participation of lay people in the formation of the Church and the proclamation of the Good News play a central role”.

“With this message, he [the Pope] encourages us to consistently continue the synodal path in our church in Germany, which we started very successfully in Frankfurt“.

“Lacks courage and vision to address real needs”

On the other hand, no such silver lining in an otherwise disappointing apostolic exhortation could be found by global Church reform group We are Church International, which said in a statement that Querida Amazonía “demonstrates that the Roman Catholic hierarchy lacks the courage and vision needed to address the real needs of the world and its people”.

Full text of the statement of We Are Church International

“Tremendously disappointing”

Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis’ official response to the Amazon Synod, demonstrates that the Roman Catholic hierarchy lacks the courage and vision needed to address the real needs of the world and its people, says We Are Church International, a leading advocate for structural change in the largest Christian denomination.

Colm Holmes of Ireland, Chair of We Are Church International praised the Pope for his “wonderful dreams for social, cultural and ecological issues in the Amazon.”

Holmes said, “We agree with the Pope that our church has significant responsibility for promoting immediate and significant changes in how the earth’s resources and the lives and cultures of indigenous people are protected. We urge all people to live in ways that reflect good stewardship of our planet, and the fact we are all one human family.”

Holmes went on to say, “It is tremendously disappointing that Pope Francis could not bring the same vision to how our church serves the people of the Amazon region, and indeed all people.

“Despite the explicit request of the bishops and people from the area, the Pope failed to open priesthood to married men or to consider ordaining women to the diaconate. He proposes vague ‘new forms of service’ for women, but reaffirms the ban on women from ordination, thereby ensuring additional responsibility without accompanying authority. His dreams for changing church structures in the Amazon are discouragingly lacking in specifics.

“After seven years in office, it seems he talks the talk but does not walk the walk when it comes to enabling the church to fully address the real needs of its members.”

Holmes noted that the document does recognize that changes are needed, even if church leaders do not know how to implement them.

“The Pope’s message that our church needs ‘the growth of a specific ecclesiastical culture that is distinctively lay’ indicates acknowledgment that members of the church have taken and will continue to take increasing responsibility for ensuring that their spiritual and sacramental needs are met, without relying on clerics to provide for them.

“In our Baptism, all are anointed as priests, prophets, and leaders. And all should have the ability to access the full sacramental life of our church, despite the dwindling numbers of ordained priests in many parts of the world.

“Lay people, including women, will continue to proclaim the gospel, to give homilies, to preside at Eucharist. Change always comes from the grassroots. This will be the full church’s response to the Amazon Synod.”

(Source: We are Church International)

Full text of the statement of We Are Church Germany

“Church also needs inculturation in Europe”

The People’s Movement of the Church We Are Church sees the post-synodal letter published today as a letter that is first of all of great importance for the people and peoples living in the Amazon, but also appeals to the world community to finally take effective responsibility in view of the situation in the nine countries of the Amazon region, which is important for the whole world.

In his usual clear language Pope Francis names the social, cultural and ecological problems, but at the same time he also points out visions of hope resulting from faith and Christian responsibility.

Apart from fundamental appreciation of the letter that is dedicated to the exploitation in Amazonia, it must also become clear that what “flesh and blood” should accept, what should grow “without weakening the identity, what should be credible and help the churches to find new life” is no longer possible in Germany, in Europe and everywhere after the abuse scandal without addressing the question of celibacy and the question of ordination offices for women.

The church, its teaching and its structure also needs an inculturation in Europe which can be accepted and supported by the faithful. This is not the case at present.

Thus, against the background of the synodal journey that has just begun in Germany and which is connected with justified expectations also of structural church reforms, it is very disappointing that Francis in this post-synodal letter does not promise any opening for married priests and no ordination of women.

Does he lack courage or is it the Cardinals who refuse any reform, such as Burke, Sarah, Müller and Brandmüller, and also the former Pope Benedict, who prevent Francis from allowing courageous steps for the future of the Church? Is the Roman Catholic Church thus proving to be completely incapable of reform?

Some selected aspects:

His call for a missionary and inculturated Church with an Amazonian face:

– This image of an inculturated church must be and become possible in the future in the same way for other regions of the world.

His statement that the priesthood in the universal church is not monolithic and takes different forms in different places on earth. Francis avoids a concrete statement for or against the celibate form of life:

– This is possibly also a consequence of the recent very irritating article by the former Pope Benedict on the question of celibacy and shows the dilemma in which Francis finds himself.

The emphasis on the common responsibility of priests, deacons, religious and laity, that is, people from the People of the Church, for the growth of communities. Here the Pope also expressly mentions “lay community leaders endowed with appropriate powers”, which includes both women and men:

– This must become exemplary also for the German situation.

His warning against a discussion about the ordination of women. He connects this with his since the beginning of his pontificate again and again very clear criticism of the “clericalization” to which the discussion is directed. Rather, he suggests “the emergence of other specifically female ministries and charisms”, without however becoming concrete:

– This is particularly disappointing for women and even more so for religious women, and at least in the European cultural area it can no longer be communicated.

(Source: We Are Church International)

Full text of the statement of We Are Church Italy

“Did Pope Francis penalize Christianity in the Amazon to block the Church in Germany?”

Papa Francis rejects the proposals of the Amazon Synod on Ministries. Synodality itself is at high risk. But the synodal document indicates the path for the future.

The reading of the first three chapters of the post-synodal exhortation “Querida Amazonia” (“A social dream,” A cultural dream”, “An ecological drea “) is interesting. In fact, we go inside the previous and contextual itinerary to the Synod which had a choral participation from below, completely unusual for moments of ecclesial life of this type.

The Amazonian Church made the best contribution that exists with regards to a disenchanted analysis of the situation. We go from the robbery of resources to ecological disaster to the story of the cultural riches of indigenous peoples now suffering from the permanent violence and the disintegration they endure, forced as they have been for a long time to emigration and continuous urbanization.

“The ‘bien vivir’ of indigenous peoples (the one who survived)” implies a personal, family, community and cosmic harmony and manifests itself in the community way of thinking about existence, in the ability to find joy and fullness in an austere and simple life, as well as in the responsible care of nature that preserves resources for future generations.

The text unreservedly denounces “injustice and crime” and is also rich in describing the diversity and complexity of the Amazonian peoples.

The fourth chapter (“An ecclesial dream”) instead contains what concerns the Church more directly. To speak extensively about inculturation, he [the Pope] dwells on the absolute necessity and opportunity that lay people and women in particular, continue in the role they already play in giving continuity to the life of many small and dispersed communities.

Strong is the underlining of the importance of the Eucharist as an indispensable moment in the life of the People of God.

But the fundamental, and the most awaited, passage that would truly allow us to go in the direction of inculturation – that of accepting the proposal of the viri probati – is ignored, that is, rejected.

We use a description of the role of the “priest” (not the “presbyter”) which seems to have been written by the former Holy Office.

As for the female diaconate, after many recognitions of female roles, the same negative position. The text says, “in reality this vision would limit the perspectives, orient us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already given and subtly cause an impoverishment of their indispensable contribution”.

This statement that rejects the female diaconate far beyond the borders of the Amazon is truly surprising.

There is a clear contradiction between the proclaimed will to fully accept sensitivities and cultures that come from afar and that require acknowledgments and hospitality that in the past were ignored with the duty to recognize new ministries and, in particular, to facilitate the community Eucharistic assembly, whose role, however, is emphasized.

All this to respect a canonical norm which, applied specifically, seems to us to contradict, in a non-evangelical way, the legitimate expectations of the Christian people of the Amazonian countries and which by a large majority the Synod wished to change .

Other significant proposals, for which the Vatican’s role is important, are ignored. We are thinking of the request to “downsize the vast geographical areas of the dioceses, vicariates and prelatures”, to create an Amazonian fund to support evangelization, to raise awareness and encourage international Catholic cooperation agencies to support the activities of evangelization beyond social projects, to create Amazonian post-synodal structures.

The Synod also asked for “the elaboration of an Amazonian rite that expresses the liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual heritage of the Amazon”. It is a very important proposal but the new rites must be approved by Rome! Furthermore, the Synod proposed the creation of an Amazonian University.

Our profound disappointment is combined with more general considerations on the location of the Exhortation within this particular moment of ecclesial life.

We, along with many others, think that this text has been strongly influenced by the German question where the Synodal Path, just started there, which gave a glimpse of an explicit position from the beginning in favor of the optional celibacy of priests and the female diaconate.

So did Pope Francis penalize Christianity in the Amazon to block the Church in Germany (and also elsewhere, for example, in Australia)?

The text of the Exhortation seems to us to strengthen the clericalism that Francis himself wants to fight, contradicts the opinion that seems widespread in the Catholic laity in favor of optional celibacy, greatly strengthens conservatives of all kinds, from fair-minded to unfair-minded ones in the Curia and beyond, who do not know the Gospel which condemns their idols.

Beyond our critical position, we cannot accept that this text is a turning point in the pontificate. The synodal text, which Francis himself “invites us to read in full, urging everyone to commit to its application so that it can inspire in some way all people of good will”, seems to us of great importance.

It shows the way. In the future when it cannot be missed. It is a real shame that Pope Francis found himself in difficulty in accepting it with all his heart.

(Source: We Are Church International)

Next on Novena:

‘Querida Amazonía’: Priests, bishops disappointed with Pope for “simply kicking can down road” on celibacy in apostolic exhortation

Women’s ordination advocates blast apostolic exhortation: “Outdated”, “institutional sexism”, “degradation”, “discrimination”

Let us vote in Synods! Catholic women already fighting back in wake of Amazon Synod apostolic exhortation disappointment

‘Querida Amazonía’: 7 of the Pope’s most powerful political statements, beyond the Church debates

Apostolic exhortation: Vatican cardinal insists Pope “has not resolved” questions of married priesthood, women’s diaconate

Apostolic exhortation: Vatican editorial director explains ‘no’ (for now?) to married priests, female deacons

In Amazon Synod apostolic exhortation, Pope puts need for greater Church “inculturation” above married priests, female deacons


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.