Dr. Matthew Bunson, Executive Editor of EWTN News: We have been here throughout almost the entire month of October, following the work of the Synod Fathers under the direction and leadership of Pope Francis, as they have tried to explore all of the pastoral, theological, and ecological challenges facing the Amazon. It has been a Synod filled with immense controversy, anxiety, worry, and some concern of what this final document might actually look like.
I'm joined by Edward Pentin, the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. What is your reaction to this document?
Pentin: Well I think, as expected, as with a lot of these documents that come out of a Synod, not a lot of specificity. Its quite vague; its propositions, its proposals. Doors are opened, but things aren't really nailed down; there's not a lot of concrete material. But it is very much, I think that many people were expecting, the big issues are in there. Everything passed; everything got over two-thirds. But, what was interesting was the two most controversial subjects on ordaining mature men of proven virtue and a women's diaconate; those got the most resistance and the least votes. But, they still got the two-thirds.
Dr. Bunson: This is a regional Synod of Bishops, it is not a total Synod of Bishops. So, in other words, we do not have Bishops from all over the world. This is a fairly hand picked group of about hundred and eighty Bishops, especially from the Amazonian region. As well as a number of the Curial officials, again mostly hand picked Cardinals and Bishops from elsewhere around the world. It has therefore, as any Synod would, the task of making proposals to Pope Francis. At the end of the day, Pope Francis is the one who decides what he is going to accept and what will become something for further discussion and exploration. And, he said tonight, in his closing speech at the Synod, that he intends or would like to write the classic apostolic exhortation, or post apostolic exhortation, which means his reflection or his meditation on this report, in other words we don't know what he is thinking at this point. He joked that he would like to write that exhortation and have it done by the end of the year, assuming, like he said, that he has time to think about it. He has a pretty packed schedule between now and then.
Having said all of that, we have had a great deal of worry about what might be showing up in this document. All of the key words of the 'Viri Probati,' the word deaconess makes an appearance here. We have as well the proposal of an Amazonian rite. So, in a way, there is not a surprise that we have been hearing about this for a long time. And, you interviewed an Austrian Bishop, a missionary, Bishop Hermann Glettler, who's been in the Amazonian region for some time. In fact, you recorded your interview, I believe, and you tweeted it tonight. He seemed very happy with this.
Pentin: Yes, I mean and this is interesting and an important thing really, because he seemed to be the leader of the Synod. He basically, and a few others, pushed this. Cardinal Hummes, the relater general, is another one. He is very happy with it. He said that he had three key issues that he wanted to see, which were the rights of the indigenous people, the ecological problems, and reaching those people in remote areas, remote parishes. And, I think, he feels that all those three things were met. As I said, did it meet your expectations? He said "of course." He was expecting it would and it did.
Dr. Bunson: He is also a very public advocate for the ordination of married men, the so-called 'Viri Probati,' and, correct me if I'm wrong, he is also in favor of the ordination of women.
Pentin: Yes, and the 'Viri Probati' was passed just, but it was passed. It was advocating, not actually concretely, but it was saying that it needs to be looked at. To give to the Holy Father, look at this, examine this. And the women deacons too, that wasn't really. Nothing was really proposed there, except for the study of and to continue this commission that Pope Francis started in 2016.
Dr. Bunson: So, lets take a look at some of these key points. The Synod calls for the 'Viri Probati.' Now what they are proposing is possible ordination of, what they call, "suitable and esteemed men of the community under the establish criteria and dispositions on the part of the competent authority." Now, that is what we had assumed that many of the Bishops would want. Now, that passed. If we look at the numbers by which it passed, that was one of the more contentious things that were voted on tonight, that was 128 to 41. Now, they talk then about ordaining priest suitable and esteemed men of the community. What are the implications of this for the wider Church?
Pentin: Well this is the question and apparently this is where there was a lot of division. There were some who felt that this was going to lead to, or that it was too restrictive and they wanted it to be wider. And, there were other who felt that it wasn't wide enough, that it wasn't broad, and they felt that having an Amazonian rite would kind of contain it, for those who wanted it on a more universal level.
Dr. Bunson: In fact, they say in this paragraph, and this is paragraph 111, in this regard that in favor of a more universal approach to the subject. They don't exactly specify what they mean by that. So, we know that this was opposed by 41 of the Fathers. Again, lets be clear, this is not in any way a snapshot of all the Bishops of the world. So, in other words, this is a snapshot of the Bishops who were here in attendance. That being said, this did pass and now this has been handed to the Holy Father. The next point that emerged was paragraph 103 when they talk about a permanent diaconate for women was requested, they said, in a large number of consultations. That's the consultations leading up to the Synod. And, for this reason, the theme was important during the Synod. Then, they make note as you said, that already in 2016 Pope Francis had created a study commission on the diaconate of women, which as a commission arrived at a partial result based on the reality that the diaconate of women was like in the early centuries of the Church and its implications for today. They do not make a formal request for women deacons; is that right?
Pentin: That's right, yes. And, I asked Cardinal Czerny at the press conference today, because theologians will say that to have a female deaconate is a breach, a dogmatic breach of Church teachings. And I said, aren't you concerned about that, was that part of the discussions? As well with another questions about the female diaconate. And he said, "well that is going to be studied, that will be up to the commission to decide." So, its going to be kind of vague. But as Bishop Kräutler said in this new book that he has written about the Synod, it matches his hopes. His hopes are that this Synod will basically leave the door open for the Pope to say, right its up to you local Bishops to decide what do you want. And I think that's why he is quite pleased.
Dr. Bunson: And here we are seeing the implications of this. Again this is another one that received one of the largest numbers of non-placet, votes against or no votes, 137 to 30; and, Pope Francis referenced this very commission, that he established in 2016, in his closing address tonight. What did he say?
Pentin: Well, I think that he believes that this commission, although he said is inconclusive, I think it was earlier this hear that he said it was inconclusive, after three years, but for that reason he wants this study to continue. So this is going to be incorporated into that.
Dr. Bunson: And he said tonight that his plan was to sort of reconvene this commission, potentially add new members. I believe he also made a reference to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which we would like to think would in fact be more or less in charge of this commission, studying something this important. But, they add that "therefore we would share our experiences and reflections with the commission and await its results." So, in other words, they would like to weight into the work of this commission, based on this. Again, the implication being, this regional Synod could potentially have direct ramifications and implication for the universal Church.
Pentin: Yes, and I think this is the aim of people, including Bishop Kräutler and others who do want this. I spoke with him tonight and he said "its an opening for women deacons," and this is a concern because earlier on in the Synod he told me that "he feels its a step toward women priests and this is what he's been pushing." So if he's very happy with it and you said you mentioned that then there are these concerns remain. They're not going away.
Dr. Bunson: That's right and now we're going to be on edge for quite some time as we await what could be a reconvened commission. There's going to be undertaking a new study or continuing that study that they've already been doing when in recent history of the Church, we've already had a pretty conclusive answer to this.
Pentin: Yes, I mean back in 2002 there was a lengthy study by the International Theological Commission and they decided that there wasn't grounds for a female diaconate under the diaconate that there was in the early Church, but was nothing like the sort of thing that they are proposing, which would deal more with the sacraments and become as a sacramental office. And, so that's a quite different. So, again this is another concern, but the Pope is your know definitively said no to married priests and so did John Paul II with his apostolic letter; so, its hard to see how this is actually going to work out, especially as the order the diaconate is always the first step of three steps to the priesthood. You can't take that away; they can't separate.
Dr. Bunson: Right within orders, we can't try to extricate that in order to ordain women.
Pentin: Exactly, that's why they see it as a means as an opening towards women priests.
Dr. Bunson: Right. So Edward, to go back to one of the other key elements that emerged in this was this call for the creation of a permanent Episcopal organism, some kind of an organization for the Amazon. Now, you have been reporting for a while now that there could be an effort to create some kind of super conference or some sort of ecclesial structural for the Amazon.
Pentin: Yes, I mean this is something mentioned earlier in last week by one of the Synod Fathers at the press briefing, who said that they want to create a specific ecclesial structure, which would be part of the council, Episcopal council of Latin America, which would be dedicated to the Amazon and to unified-decision making for the Church in the Amazon. I mean it sounds perfectly reasonable that surprising that it hasn't been before, but it's also concerning that that might be coinciding with a political push to unify or to rather take away, to make it a supernational, natural nature.
Dr. Bunson: That's right. Any time you see in some sort of a Vatican document the mention of a world fund it does raise some interesting questions to what exactly is happening here. We've had the involvement at least the arrival and engagement with a lot of left-leaning politicians over the last few weeks. I know you have reported on this. Other outlets have reported on this, so the other two names that emerged very specifically in this document, relating to a permanent, physical organism, was CELAM and REPAM. Now, for those who aren't familiar with sort of Latin American Church, what are those?
Pentin: Well CELAM is what I mentioned just now, which is the Episcopal Council for Latin America that is a very important boy in Latin America for the Church, and it co-founded, was one of the main founders, of REPAM. And, REPAM is this pan-Amazonian ecclesial network, which was set up in 2014 specifically ready to prepare and run this Synod. And that's what they've done.
Dr. Bunson: And its founder, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, is the relater general for this Synod, We know that he has been involved in the very beginning and the idea of the Synod, all the way up to its final votes today. And, the drafting of this report.
Pentin: Yes, I mean basically this is a REPAM Synod, which is the pan-Amazonian ecclesial network. So, they basically run it, which is unusual, because I've covered quite a few Synods now over the years and I've not seen a body like this actually run a Synod from outside. This is quite new. But, anyway, its been kind of controversial. Some of the things they put on; of course the Pachamama.
Dr. Bunson: One of the questions that has come in on Facebook, its a very simple one, are their priests now going to be married? And, how would you respond to that? Because, this is going to be one of the spins coming out of this. I'm sure that social media is already exploding that an official organization, an official body of the Church, the Synod of Bishops, has essentially asked the Pope to allow married priests. I mean that is going to be the spin on this.
Pentin: And, of course, they're spinning it saying well there already are married priests in the Church. But, you know, we've got the Anglicans who came over who were married and they could become priests; but, this is different. Actually, they're going to be, you know, married men who will be ordained within the Latin Rite, so its goes a step further. Its not like it has been in the past. But, what we are seeing, is that it is going to be confined to, this is what the hope is at least by quite a few people in the Synod, the region and it won't go beyond the Amazon. But, of course, I think as you say, we're going to have that spin perhaps going out by saying, well if they can do it there they can do it in Germany, they can do it in other countries. And, there's nothing really to stop that from happening at the moment. It all depends on what the Pope says in his final document.
Dr. Dunson: And that brings us to sort of a nexus of a couple of stories that we have been looking at, perhaps the biggest story emerging out of this Synod, at least until tonight, has been the presence of these statues or idols that were taken from Santa Maria in Transpontina, just a few yards from the Vatican, where a variety of liturgies or rites, however one wants to describe the very much an Amazonian flavor, were held. There is the famous, now infamous, Vatican gardens event in which these statues or idols played a prominent part and, in a way, were now the most memorable image of that. But, there were calls in this document then for the creation of a specific Amazonian rite. Now, I'm not saying that this document is calling for pagan idols and things to be brought in, let's be clear about that. What I'm getting at is that there's going to be a lot of question about what an Amazonian rite is going to look like, and how much of indigenous culture can you bring in for proper inculturation all in the name of evangelization.
Pentin: Well the concern is that the idea of inculturation as we've seen these past three week is not necessarily an orthodox one. I mean there's a sense that there seems to be an unwillingness to realize that you can't just bring in pagan, or objects, or idols from another culture and bring them into a Church and not baptize them and essentially not Christianize them. And that's been the traditional view of inculturation. That is what you do, that's why you don't have, for example, Greek and Roman statues in Churches, because the Churches have taken on culture, but they've Christianized them. So, you have statues of Saints and the Madonna, the Virgin Mary, so you don't have pagan elements in the Church. It's even though the Church is always Christianized those cultures. So, that seems to be missing here, and I think that some might say that doesn't all go well with the future if that's the case.
Dr. Bunson: Well, I want to read, to be completely fair and in how we are covering this document, this is paragraph 119 and the talk about "a new organism for the Church must constitute a competent commission to study dialogue according to the custom of ancestral peoples. The collaboration of an Amazonian right that express the liturgical, theological disciplinary and spiritual patrimony of the Amazon" with special reference to what Lumen Gentium affirms for the oriental Churches, that is the dogmatic constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council that did discuss very clearly the oriental Churches. Let's remember that the Catholic Church is made up of a variety of Churches and this is proposing that this would add to the rites already present in the Church, enriching the work of evangelization. So, I guess, my question would be what we saw in Santa Maria in Transpontina, is this something that gives us a flavor of what an Amazonian rite would look like? In the same way that this Via Crucis, that was held last Saturday, would that also have a flavor of an Amazonian right? And, that is a source of immense concern for people.
Pentin: It is and maybe I think that this paragraph is stronger than the Instrumentum Laboris, and the working document on this. You know that the Church is dogmatic teaching; and, therefore, everything has to be taken account of. There isn't also in this document, and not that I've seen, the idea that we have a sort of absorbed divine revelation from the indigenous cultures. That's not in there, as far as I can see. I haven't had a chance to look at it very closely, but I don't think its in there. So, I think there are certain safe-guards that have been put in, that were not in Instrumentum Laboris, which is obviously a positive thing. So, and again, it depends what the Pope decides.
Dr. Bunson: Exactly, and all of this again is going to go to Pope Francis. But, there is an aspect to that I want to go to this idea of martyrs that are mentioned. And, that's in paragraph 16, because in the Via Crucis, this procession that we had last Saturday, and I was able to attend, that they celebrated or marked what was called the martyrs of the Amazon. Now, for those not familiar with them, who are the martyrs of the Amazon?
Pentin: Well, these are according to the Synod, these are people who lay down their lives really for, to courageously fight for integral ecology and for the people of the Amazon, and the indigenous rights and human rights, and so forth. And, they were very heroic and they've given their lives for that and that's to be commended, of course. I think the criticism of this is that martyrs, as we understand them in the Church, are martyrs to the faith. They're not martyrs, specifically to social justice issues, and these, I think, there is concern that they are becoming martyrs for that particular issue, which some would argue is very political, politically charged. And, interesting in that paragraph, that faith actually isn't mentioned. There isn't a talk about being a martyr to the faith, and yet, martyrs are killed in Odium Fidei, which is hatred to the faith.
Dr. Bunson: So this is what I would describe as a kind of liberation theology liturgy, that it was very political and it was very troubling for a lot of people to see. But, as you not, this idea of integral ecology in the Amazon, now this document does go to some lengths to try to express what, even you have reported, are genuine worries and problems facing the Amazonian region.
Pentin: Yes, and of course that's all valid and there are some very good things in this document that do draw attention to the plight that they face, the human rights issues, the real problems facing them ecological threats, and companies and corporations coming in and exploiting them, and human trafficking, and all of this; and this is very important that that's there and migration issues too. So, you know, you can't quibble with those that they're very important and necessary for the Amazon. So, those are all there, but I think there is some concern generally about this document and about the Synod itself, which is that it's become to horizontal. There isn't much or enough about the faith and the supernatural, and there needs to be more of a balance there. And, I think you see it in the document that that's not there.
Dr. Bunson: Well, if we go according to to the official Spanish text and that is the official text for this document, we all have working translations and things, the name Jesus was cited 16 times, Jesus Christ was cited 6 times, Christ was cited 19 times, Synodality was mentioned 21 times, as many times as evangelization, which is 21 times, the Blessed Mother Mary is named 3 times, the word mother occurs a number of times, mother of the Amazon, which is a name they give to the Blessed Mother, 2 times, but mother earth is named 3 times.
Pentin: That's right, so I think you have a fairly clear indication of the priorities, that it is very much based on the temporal. But, there are as you say, 19 references to Christ, and you know there was concern that, as sadly often happens with documents in today's Church, that Christ, the way the name Christ, Jesus Christ, doesn't get as much mention as these other issues, which tend to be on a political level. But, I think there is quite a lot of mention there and that shows quite a bit of balance.
Dr. Bunson: That's right. Now, John from Facebook has asked "to the limited extent ordination of married men to the Western priesthood should be considered at all, should it be limited to men who have been permanent deacons for at least a decade?" Cardinal Czerny, in a way, answered that question, didn't he?
Pentin: Well, it does say in the document that they're not thinking of ordaining married men straight away, which is what some of the concerns were that they would have no real formation, because the urgency and the need to bring the Eucharist to these remote areas. So, they would just be ordained straight away, not to be the full ministry of the priesthood, but a restricted one. But, in here it does talk about they've got to have been deacons first. So, there is a certain process.
Dr. Bunson: Pope Francis, in his concluding remarks tonight, stressed creativity and evangelizing zeal, but he also made note, as to the document, a call for better access to seminaries for indigenous peoples in the Amazon, who have often been left behind, or ignored, or simply prohibited from entering seminaries. So, that the building of an authentic Catholicism in the Amazon is going to require creativity the Pope said, and to that end, I think to be fair, there are a lot of proposals in here for accomplishing that, aside from what is going to be the very controversial suggestion for the 'Veri Probati.'
Pentin: Exactly, and I think that's interesting. I was surprised actually how few indigenous priests there were. I mean, you would think knowing a bit of Africa that a lot of local Africans are priests, and yet, in the Amazon it's quite rare. So, obviously they need this change in structure to allow that formation to happen; and so, that could be a very good thing.
Dr. Bunson: We keep coming back to what could be universal ramifications for some of these proposals. Now again, this is a regional Synod, and yet the implications are there for a lot of problems and challenges for the universal Church. And great questions. Many observations, especially by Cardinals based in Rome here, that this is not the right setting for some of these important conversations.
Pentin: That's right. And from the very beginning that was the concern that you can't deal with these major issues, which do have implications for the universal Church, in a regional Synod.
Dr. Bunson: Cheryl Grady asked, "what happens to the universality of the Catholic Church if there is a separate ecclesial department for the Amazon?" This is a reference to, I think the Holy Father talking about Cardinal Peter Turkson tonight.
Pentin: Yes, I think that's a fair question and you know how much is it going to be constrained to a to a region, as they were saying earlier, it could easily spill over and other regions take what they want from it, what they see is good for their own aim.
Dr. Bunson: At the very time that this report is coming out, the German Bishops are exploring, running down a Synodal path of their own, as it is being described. This is a process that has been headed by Cardinal Reinhardt Marx of Munich and Freising, who is the Presidnet of the German Episcopal Conference and this involves a number of issues that in a way relate to these very questions here. What are they proposing?
Pentin: Well they want to really make some really radical changes and really on the Church's moral teaching. And, I think they would like to see married priests to deal with the vocations shortage there. They would like the ordination of women, I think this is something they've, not all of them of course, but I think they would like to see a move forward. So, I think they would be pleased with this. Of course, there's a press conference going on right now with them; so, we will probably know more later. But, I suspect they'll be quite happy with it.
Dr. Bunson: And, Pope Francis sent them a letter in June, asking them to take a different Synodal path, the one that he is trying to lay out for the Church according to this letter. There was a motion, I believe, by Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne for the German Bishops to embrace that model. It was defeated soundly, I believe.
Pentin: So, they're moving ahead full steam ahead, with that proposal and you know that this is very characteristic of the German Church. If they want to do something, they'll be determined and they'll do it. And there's very little that can stop them, and even Pope Francis, I think, is really leaving them to their own devices to do it. I don't see that stopping them, but we'll know soon enough how far they get.
Dr. Bunson: Margaret Nein has asked, "the Amazon people need to understand why priests remain celibate so the are Christ like; we are opening Pandora's box if we do, in certain situations, than many situations will eventually arise."
Pentin: Yeah, I mean, this has been the concern all along. And this is why the German Church has pushed it so hard, we believe, because they see this as the first step to changing it in their own countries. I think two aid agencies in Germany who've been quite crucial to funding this Synod, funding this set of preparation for the Synod; I've been saying before it that this is going to change the Church forever that its going to be a huge change. Bishop Kräutler said in this new book he has out that he thinks its going to be an epochal change for the universal Church; and, I asked him tonight does he think that's going to be the case, and he said "for sure this is going to be the beginning of great changes, not just for the Amazon, but for the whole world." And, this is how they see it; so, its a genuine concern. But, as many say that you have to trust in the Holy Spirit that everything is going to be okay.
Dr Bunson: Yes, and in his address tonight to the Synod Fathers, at the very end of the Synod, Pope Francis talked about tradition. And, he went back to the Fathers of the Church, to the earliest teachings of the Church, he stressed the idea of continuity, he made a reference to this idea of having the teachings of the Church proclaimed in a way that the modern world can understand, which brought me immediately back to the very opening of the Second Vatican Council under now Pope Saint John XXIII, who said something almost identical. Why though are people looking at this document going to be so alarmed?
Pentin: Well, I mean, it may not be a cause for alarm. I don't know because he said tradition is not a museum, but its about being rooted in tradition, meaning you can change. This is the way he sees it. But I think the concern is that this is kind of a rootless change, that there isn't this continuity and we'll see from the Pope's document whether that continuity will be intact. But yes, Cardinal Czerny was saying tonight, he put a great emphasis on the need to change and that these new pathways of this Synod have been about creating, he said, that's all about change and if you want to meet the problems you've got to change, and if we don't then we won't make it, he said. We have got to change, we've got to change in all sorts of ways, especially with ecology and so forth.
Dr. Bunson: And that was one of the last points that I sort of wanted to unpack. The calls in this document for an ecological conversion to act on an unprecedented socio-environmental crisis, to take care of our common home in the Amazon. Now, one of the more frequently cited documents, I know, throughout this Synod has been the Holy Father's Encyclical Laudato Si, in 2015, on our common home. The term 'common home' in the Amazon, this idea of whatever happens in the Amazon ecologically is going to have implications for the rest of the world. I think that all of us would agree that certainly what is potentially going to happen in the Amazon has theological implications for the rest of the world, certainly the universal Church. But, this idea of ecological conversion and ecological sins, and we have heard a lot about it.
Pentin: Yes, there's a whole paragraph, I think, on ecological sins of commission and omission. And, this is fairly new to talk about ecological sins within the framework of the sinful nature of man. I think this is quite novel for this, I mean it was in Laudato Si of course as well, but yes this need for ecological conversion is something that Cardinal Czerny was talking about, as a need for an internal change to how you approach the environment and how we could learn from the local people, the Amazonian people on how we can do that. But yes, this is very much part of this document and really something that the Pope was very concerned about.
Dr. Bunson: So, this document now is passed to Pope Francis. He received it tonight, as is the custom of all Synods. We look forward to seeing what he has to say tomorrow at the closing Mass. His homily is going to be looked at very closely, I know, although typical with Pope Francis he probably won't mention that much of the actual document. He weighed in quite a bit about it tonight and I suspect that he'll stay pretty focused tomorrow, but you never know.
Pentin: But, I think as always, as we've seen actually with every Synod that Pope Francis has done there's always an emphasis on change and being open to change. Don't be stuck in your ways and I think we are going to see that here. But, as I said earlier, the concern is with there isn't much reference to what went before this pontificate or what went before the Second Vatican Council. There's not a lot of rootedness and continuity with what went on in 2000 years of the Church. It's very much about the last 50 years and this pontificate, and so we have to see how much that continuity is really going to be there.
Dr. Bunson: So to recap major takeaways from this document; one, the Synod is actually calling for the 'Veri Probati,' in other words, under very limited circumstances, as the document says, "the possible ordination of suitable and esteemed men of the community under established criteria and dispositions." It mentions the diaconate for women, but does not specifically ask for women deacons. But, really places it within the context of the study of this commission. It calls for the creation of a permanent Episcopal body for the Amazon. It also calls for the creation of an Amazonian rite for the indigenous peoples in the Amazon, and then for an ecological conversion it sort of rooted in the teachings of Laudato Si. So, I think those would be the key takeaways.
Pentin: Yes, I think you pretty much got it in a nut shell, but, as I said, it's going to be a lot more reflection needed on this.
Original commentary by Dr. Bunson and Edward Pentin on EWTN, here.
In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus. Amen.