The Pope’s Amazon Synod document is in danger due to senior cardinals’ resistance to give up the discipline of compulsory priestly celibacy.

Driving the news

Spanish web Vida Nueva‘s Vatican correspondent reported December 17 that the publication of Francis’ post-synodal exhortation after the October meet, originally slated by the Pope himself for the end of the year, has been delayed until the end of January or beginning of February 2020.

The intrigue

The official reason Vatican sources are giving for the lag is the Pope’s tight agenda over the last few months, which has included a trip to Thailand and Japan.

That full diary has meant delays in the writing and translation of the post-synodal exhortation, which will be published simultaneously in different languages.

But the real reason for the postponement seems to be the reluctance of senior Vatican officials to permit the ordination to the priesthood of married men: a measure Synod participants voted for by an overwhelmingly margin of 128-41.

Go deeper

The December 2-4 meeting of the Pope’s Council of Cardinals heard a report from Cardinal Michael Czerny, special secretary of the Synod, on aspects of the Synod’s work, and also reflected on “considerations” from Cardinal Seán O’Malley “on the formulation of the post-Synodal document”, according to a Vatican press release.

That those “considerations” on the Synod document included concern over the abolition of compulsory priestly celibacy seems evident given recent comments from Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

Ouellet told Vida Nueva December 5 that not only did he vote against the Synod proposal to ordain married men to the priesthood in the Amazon, but he added that he doesn’t think maried priests “is a solution” for the shortage of priests in the region.

“In this, the synod has disappointed me”, Ouellet admitted.

“There is pessimism regarding the ability of those cultures to live celibacy. It is a colonialist prejudice that I don’t share. […]

“Why imitate other communities that are less missionary that have a different view regarding the priesthood?”, continued Ouellet, referring to other Churches that have abolished for their ministers obligatory celibacy, which in the cardinal’s opinion is the “missionary strength” of the Roman Catholic Church.

In conversation with Vida Nueva, Ouellet expressed his hope that the Pope’s post-synodal document has a “greater Gospel foundation than the [Synod] final document”.

Precisely on the point of the possible reintroduction into the Church of married priests, which the cardinal said was raised in the Synod final document “in a way more ideological than Evangelical”.

Why it matters

The Pope’s Amazon Synod document – with its expected emphasis on “new paths” of pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal conversion – is needed now more than ever.

And precisely, in his final remarks to the Synod October 26, Francis warned against fixating on the “small disciplinary things” like the Synod’s opening to optional priestly celibacy while ignoring the assembly’s broader “diagnoses” of cultural, social, pastoral and ecological questions.

“There is always a group of elite Christians who like to take up this kind of diagnosis as if they were universal, however small, or in this kind of more inter-ecclesiastical disciplinary resolutions”, the Pope deplored.

Those “Catholics who want to go to the little things and forget the big things… ‘Because they don’t have the courage to be with the world, they believe they are with God. Because they don’t have the courage to compromise on man’s options, on man’s life options, they believe they are fighting for God'”, Francis said, quoting nineteenth-century French poet Charles Péguy.

So it seems that “elite Christians” like Ouellet, with their fixation on the (relatively) minor detail of the abolition of priestly celibacy, are endangering the bigger picture of the Pope’s much-needed leadership on the care for the environment, wider society, and the Church.

And that’s more than a pity, especially since the international community – which failed to reach a consensus on the climate emergency at the COP25 summit in Madrid – urgently needs to hear as soon as possible the Pope’s voice in a major new document on care for the Common Home.

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