The Bishop of Essen, in Germany, Franz-Josef Overbeck, is predicting that “nothing will be the same” in the Church after the Synod for the Amazon.
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The Church’s work in the Amazon region “is about the fight against environmental destruction for profit, the preservation of indigenous culture, help for the poor and education”, Overbeck told Spiegel Online on Saturday, the day before the Synod began in Rome.
“The church needs to raise awareness that the exploitation of nature must end. And we have to increase the political clout on the ground”, said the bishop, who is also the President of German Church aid organisation Adveniat and a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
“The Synod marks a turning point, as it has becomes clear how much of a huge problem a very large region of our earth can become for all people and the whole world”, Overbeck continued.
“We want to take on these challenges and do everything possible for a solution. In that sense, I hope, nothing will be the same afterwards”.
Asked about the conservative conspiracy theory that German bishops want to exploit the Amazon Synod to push through their liberal Church reform agenda, Overbeck said simply: “That’s nonsense”.
“The pastoral situation in the Amazon is often so difficult that, for example, the shortage of priests in Germany seems almost innocuous by comparison”, the bishop explained.
In the Amazon, “there are huge areas that are looked after by a few clergymen. This includes pastoral care. For that we need solutions”, he insisted.
“We have to ask ourselves: how can we use creative solutions to create new and attractive paths that strengthen faith and the Church?”, he continued.
Overbeck explained that it is “important to find solutions so that [Masses in the Amazon] are possible everywhere and on a regular basis”.
On the subject of the possible reintroduction at the Synod of the ordination of married men to the priesthood, Overbeck was cautious, but optimistic.
“That would be a big step for our tradition. In the Catholic Church there are in exceptional cases married, formerly Protestant pastors who have converted to the Catholic Church and are now performing priestly ministry there”, he recalled.
“Orthodoxy also knows the married clergy. But for us this is new. In view of the ongoing shortage of priests, one should think about it”, Overbeck explained. but without abolishing celibacy completely, which he thinks would be a “false” step.
For the Pope to introduce married priests worldwide after the Amazon Synod “would be a miracle”, Overbeck admitted, “and miracles need time”.
“The implementation of such innovations is a huge challenge and needs examination. But it is possible. Francis rightly does not want to make [the ordination of married men] a political issue. His goal is to keep the Church together and avoid a split in any case”, the bishop said.
Overbeck was also asked what role he thinks women’s demands for equality in the Church will play at the Amazon Synod.
“The face of the local Church is already female”, he answered, adding that “the work of religious women [in the Amazon], for example, is indispensable”.
“But the role of women in society is different in Central and South America, the Caribbean and many other parts of the world than in ours.
“Equality will come in the long run, in whatever way. But I do not think that aspect will play a big role” at Synod debates, Overbeck admitted.