At the Amazon Synod, “church-related discrimination created a costly missed opportunity for a dying planet”, a leading feminist theologian has claimed.

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US theologian Mary Hunt made the argument in an insightful piece in Religion Dispatches, in which she said the recently-concluded Synod has turned out to be “one more occasion to reinforce and reinscribe a hierarchical model of church with bishops in league with the pontiff to make few if any substantive structural changes, indeed to keep change at bay”.

Although Hunt acknowledged that Synod participants addressed ecological concerns to some extent, she said “the fact that church men are still arguing over women’s roles and the marital status of priests meant that focus was distracted”.

“Not even loads of money can change a patriarchal church”, Hunt denounced.

She lamented that “the ultimate losers” of the Synod “were the people of the Amazon and the planet because the Roman Catholic Church is simply too compromised internally, between sex abuse and discrimination… to have enough moral credibility for governments or corporations to take it seriously”.


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Hunt argued that the real conclusion of the Amazon Synod is that “internal church matters” like the veto on married priests and women deacons “remain stumbling blocks to the institution’s potential impact on climate change”.

“Feminist liberationists have long claimed that discrimination against women is the model for top-down, over-against ways of thinking that structure power for elites over the rest with negative consequences worldwide. The Amazonian Synod only reinforced the claim”, Hunt wrote.

But the theologian said that although “breathtakingly obvious”, the “mistakes” made at the Synod are “relatively easy to fix”.

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Why it matters

In the first place, Hunt said, the meeting should have been held in the Amazon, in order to displace the “center-periphery model” of Church with the Vatican at its heart, and to honour Amazon culture “in all of its specificity, generosity, and struggle for survival”.

Next, the Synod should have included votes for laypeople and especially women, to overcome “the outmoded monarchical model of church that is driving people to the doors”, Hunt argued.

“How much longer will Catholics tolerate the senseless injustice of ecclesial sexism, which the Pope could change with the stroke of a pen?”, the theologian deplored, with respect to women’s exclusion at the Synod.

In terms of the Synod’s cautious opening to married priests and women deacons, Hunt said that was still a “hideous theological model” that keeps the lay faithful as passive subjects.

Even married priests and women deacons – should they eventuate – “will still keep the fundamental ecclesial model and theological understanding of Eucharist rather than empower people to be agents of their own religious faith”, Hunt warned.

“This smacks of the same colonialism of the corrupt business people in the region, in that a few make decisions for the many. One step forward, two steps back”, the theologian decried.

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For the record

Hunt also denounced in her piece the “despicable… hate crime” that was the robbery and profanation of the “Our Lady of the Amazon” statuettes dumped in the Tiber River.

“Catholic conservatives understand that some images, especially female images, are simply too powerful to risk having around lest change follow”, the theologian wryly observed.

“It’s no coincidence that the statues were of a pregnant female, an all-too-vivid reminder of how women in general and Earth in particular are treated. So much for pro-life claims”, Hunt wrote.

But in terms of the desecration of the ‘Pachamama’ statues, the theologian also acknowledged that “the institutional Roman Catholic Church has created these problems for itself over long centuries of misogyny and resistance to recent decades of good faith efforts to open the ranks of ministry and decision-making to all”.

“The shortsightedness of patriarchs who fear the loss of their power, the revelation of their corruption on clergy sexual abuse and its coverup, and an end to their dubious financial dealing, have aborted the Catholic community’s full potential to take on the current climate catastrophe in any credible and effective way”, Hunt concluded.

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