Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 25, 2019
Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City, right, speaks to members of a small working group at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon on Oct. 10, 2019, in the Vatican synod hall. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City, right, speaks to members of a small working group at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon on Oct. 10, 2019, in the Vatican synod hall. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“The central message” from the Pan-Amazonian synod of bishops to the world is this: “Our common home is at risk; the situation is urgent. Climate change is scientifically proven. If global warming goes much beyond two degrees, there will be [the risk of] catastrophe in the oceans.” That is the synodal takeaway of Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, the archbishop of Mexico City, described to America in an hour-long interview, conducted in Spanish, on the eve of the conclusion of the three-week-long synod.

He said that if global warming goes much higher, then “there is the risk of desertification” in various parts of the world, including the United States, because of the lack of water, as rivers and lakes dry up. He said the church “has to ring the alarm bell. It must make people aware of this crisis situation,” and it can do so “together with young people.”

The Mexican cardinal said “integral ecology” and the need for “ecological conversion” have been central points of the synod. “We all agreed that the church should be a factor for wakening consciences to care for the common home,” he said.

He said that is quite understandable that resistance to all this idea comes from economic and political interests.

It has always been the case in the history of humanity: those who command are those who have the money. The real problem is that those who have the money impose the rules; this has happened down the centuries. But the governments should regulate for the safeguarding of the environment against those economic interests. As church, we cannot do it, but we can raise awareness. I think that is the task of the church: to awaken consciences.

He thinks this is possible especially in Latin American countries because the church has “moral authority” in most of them, but it can have the same influence elsewhere in the world.

“Integral ecology” and the need for “ecological conversion” have been central points of the synod. “We all agreed that the church should be a factor for wakening consciences to care for the common home,” he said.

The 69-year old Mexican cardinal is an important figure in Latin America, having been president of both CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Council, and the Mexican bishops’ conference. He was elected to the team that would draft the synod’s final document, but he turned down that role because he felt he did not know the Amazon region well enough, a gesture that was much appreciated by the synod fathers from the region.

This polyglot biblical scholar spent nine years in Rome, where he studied under the renowned Jesuit cardinal, Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. He has participated in other synods. But this one was “different,” he said, because its composition was “strongly Latin American” and its theme was one “that, sadly, in many places, is not yet seen as part of the mission of the church.”

Pope Francis called the synod “because it’s evident that the mission of the church is to bring the Gospel and to help people understand why they have to be good stewards of creation,” a task that is of the greatest urgency in the Amazon region. He noted that the synod generated various reactions, provoking joy among many people, “including non-Catholics and non-Christians” who share its ecological concern.

But there has also been opposition to the synod, including from not a few Catholics who still have difficulty in seeing the care of creation as part of the mission of the church in today’s world. Asked how he read this opposition, the Mexican cardinal said, “It’s because we come from a 19th-century spirituality that is rather self-absorbed”—“muy intimista’ in Spanish—“or ‘individualistic,’ one might say.”

But, he said, “starting with the Second Vatican Council,” the church has seen its mission as a mission “to serve the world, to serve humanity and not just the individual.” He recalled that the council’s two major texts were “Lumen Gentium,” which looked at the Catholic Church from the inside, and “Gaudium et Spes,” the document on “The Church in the Modern World” that emphasizes the service the Catholic Church must give to fulfill its mission in the world. When the council ended, he said, “these two contrasting visions existed.”

“If the decision is taken to ordain ‘viri probati’ then it should be done in a gradual way, starting with the permanent diaconate… and then one has to see if this permanent deacon is able to be a pastor.”

He agreed that the famous Brazilian bishop, Dom Helder Camara, who made a major contribution to the “Gaudium et Spes” text and is now on the path to beatification, was an expression of this new way of being church.

The cardinal-archbishop of Mexico City acknowledged that this synod could be described as “revolutionary” compared to the two previous ones—one each on the family and on young people. He recalled especially that the synod on young people revealed their “great sensitivity to the ecology question” and remarked that “this is an opportunity for the church to come close to them.” Indeed, he said, “we must try to come close to young people, to accompany them and let them know that we too are working on the issues that concern them most.”

Like other synod fathers, he saw two different mentalities or visions emerge at the synod but declared that “the Second Vatican Council’s [vision] prevailed in this synod because the Latin American church has worked much on these themes [at the plenary assemblies of CELAM] in Medellin, Puebla and most recently in Aparecida,” whereas “the resistances [in the synod] are found more in Europe,” including “many, though not all of those in the curia” who “struggled to understand these issues because they follow a more traditionalist mentality.”

He was particularly appreciative this time to come “to know Amazonia from within, this territory of 9 million square kilometers and its more than 300 different peoples, with distinct ethnic groups, cultures and languages, that do not have a common language, that are ‘atomized’ and have a nomadic style of life that is friendly to the forest, and know how to keep it alive.”

He felt personally enriched “from a social and cultural perspective” by what he heard.

He considered it “very important from an ecclesial perspective that for the first time that all the bishops of the Amazonian region met together in synod; it brought together members of the seven bishops conferences of nine countries.”

He recognized that if the church does not provide the Eucharist for a community except on very rare occasions, then it risks “protestantizing the Catholic communities.”

At the synod, Cardinal Aguiar Retes said “participants spoke with great freedom,” and on the question of the ordination of mature married men from the indigenous communities, “they expressed positions in favor and against.”

Having listened to these, he thought at times that some participants were looking for “an immediate solution” without having first sufficiently engaged in a pastoral push for vocations among young indigenous people. He felt there were “risks” attached to providing immediate solutions.

For example, a community could be left with the same priest for his lifetime since he may not speak another language to move elsewhere where a different language is spoken. He revealed that in the Spanish language group in which he participated an indigenous person from Ecuador said his community preferred a priest who was not married and did not have a family, as has been the case up to now. As a result, thee cardinal remarked that the question is not a simple one.

At the same time, he recognized that if the church does not provide the Eucharist for a community except on very rare occasions, then it risks “protestantizing the Catholic communities,” as some have said. He recalled, however, that when the first missionaries came to Mexico they did not celebrate the Eucharist immediately: Instead they sought a path of evangelization by trying to connect with the culture of the indigenous people.

The cardinal archbishop of Mexico City, who has also served as bishop in two other dioceses, told America, “I am not in favor or against ordaining ‘viri probati.’ I only say that one should not do it precipitously; there should be a well-studied procedure and it should be guaranteed that the priest is not ordained to remain for the rest of his life at the head of that community, otherwise the community could take on his style [of being church]. There should be rotation, perhaps of missionaries with viri probati.” He said he felt this way because of the difficulty he has experienced as a bishop in trying to move priests from a parish where they had been for many years.

Recognizing, however, that tomorrow the synod fathers could vote in favor of the ordination of married men and then ask the pope to discern if they should go that path, the Mexican cardinal said, “If the decision is taken to ordain ‘viri probati’ then it should be done in a gradual way, starting with the permanent diaconate… and then one has to see if this permanent deacon is able to be a pastor.” He advocated “a scrupulous, microscopic” selection process of candidates for ordination, adapted to each person and each community and said there should be “no generalizations.”

Questioned about how he read the synod’s discussion on the role of women, the cardinal said, “there is consensus that women are already doing lay ministries” including “the established ones of lector and acolyte,” but he felt the church must avoid “the risk of clericalizing” lay ministries and emphasized that “what we need is to revitalize the church” and “not just give titles” or link new ministerial roles to “salaried jobs” or making women “functionaries.”

Cardinal Aguiar Retes is very close to Pope Francis. He first met him in 2001 when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was made cardinal. He met him again at the 2001 synod, when they were in the same language group, and he worked closely with him at the Fifth Plenary Assembly of CELAM in Aparecida in 2007. Francis made him cardinal in November 2016, and a year later appointed him as archbishop of Mexico City.

Asked what has struck him most about Pope Francis in these years, he said: “His transparency, cordiality, affability, sense of humor.” He describes him as “one who is always ready to make relations with people,” all qualities that have been evident at this synod, he noted.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
JR Cosgrove
4 years 8 months ago

Whatever one thinks about global warming/climate change, does anyone believe the reasons people are abandoning religion is due to it? Or that people will flock back to the Church if it sets itself on a mission of advocating some process to combat it? Has anyone proposed a program that will change anything without causing major disruptions. Or in the cardinal's country that the drug cartels that are plaguing Mexico care anything about it? Or that China cares? Is this Synod just using climate change as a diversion? Are its conclusions pre-determined and its real objectives elsewhere?

Jim Smith
4 years 8 months ago

The deserts are shrinking and crops are abounding. We see from undoctored satellite imagery evidence of huge increase in vegetation over the whole planet, a result of the tiny CO2 increase in the last century.

There is not enough actual carbon on the planet combined with all the oxygen available and the lot dissolved in the oceans of the world to change the pH of the water from alkaline, as it is now, to even neutral, let alone to become acid. Chemistry 101, OK?

Humans are best adapted to tropical climes, any increase in winter temperatures will decrease the mortality of vulnerable people who increasingly cannot pay fuel bills to keep warm.

Mosquitoes abound in COLD climates, ask Alaskans or Siberians and the torrid zone disease epidemic panic is clearly absurdity.

Water levels at coasts and in tidal areas change between highest tides and lowest tides by an order of magnitude greater than the measured rate of mean sea level measured at reliable sites.

Man's inhumanity to man is the greatest threat faced by every human individual living in the Amazon region, all else is smoke and mirrors, diverting attention from this core issue.

Stanley Kopacz
4 years 8 months ago

Due to the Clausius-Clapyron principle, the water vapor that can be carried by the atmosphere increases by 7% per °C. Since weather events like on a Gaussian curve, this means that extreme weather events like floods increase by much more than 7%. Droughts can also be drier since the atmosphere can remove moisture from the land. Neither floods nor drought are good for farming and these extreme events are on the rise.

Thanks for the chemistry lesson but the lowering of the pH in the oceans or anything is called acidification. If you raise the pH, it is basification. Change the pH too rapidly and we see the effects on coral and other creatures that employ calcium carbonate. You don't have to make the pH greater than 7 to cause extinction problems.

My ancestors came from Poland. You can have your tropical climes with the year round mosquitoes and bugs that never get killed by winter. And the diseases that go with them. I've been to Florida. It sucks. So does encephalitis and Zika.

You can always put more clothes on. You can't get cooler than naked. Human productivity decreases with increased temperature.

With respect to sea level, again, it's about shifting the mean and the Gaussian curve. Shifting the mean leads to shift in the shoreline. When the tide comes in, it comes in further. Property at shorelines becomes at risk. Storm surges also reach further inland.

Civilization has never seen global climate shifts like this. The high tech civilization we now have is probably more vulnerable to the insults from climate change. We must halt this rapid change in CO2 now.

JR Cosgrove
4 years 8 months ago

A friend's parents owned a house on the New Jersey shore that was third from the beach. After the Great Atlantic Storm of 1962 it became a beachfront house. Still there with bigger beaches almost 60 years later.

Stay well, because we are going to need you in 2050 to tell us how bad it will become.

Jim Smith
4 years 8 months ago

Cosgrove? In 2050 I will be 100 and have very long lived ancestors.

I was giving the lie to some of the false assertions used to justify and inflame the idea that there is a global climate crisis or catastrophe which is caused by human use of fossil fuels, Comments are necessarily not comprehensive, there is a word limit and reader fatigue of long posts.
I am certain that future climate is VERY unpredictable by computer models, but at the same time have been impressed by the enormous body of data from multiple sciences that the overall climate of the earth is determined by solar energy output interacting with the earth and varying with the proximity of the earth to the sun and the variable coincidence of the tilt of the earth and the precession of the globe.
So far, the frequency and amplitude of each of these cycles of these independent variables have been detected with enough precision to extrapolate into the near future to guess what will come. NO computer climate model includes them.
The sunspots have been very rare or absent this year, as expected by Milankovic and associated with cooling in the past.
We do not have the gall, or the hubris, to prophetically assert that we know this is heralding a grand solar minimum or a super grand solar minimum but are confident that there will be some cooling and have no idea if the fossil fuel emissions will mitigate it a little or at all.

Developing a vast number of nuclear power plants for base load power to run civilisation has no downsides and will equally run heaters and air-conditioners at affordable prices to the poor.

Your comments are informed and mature, and you post links which are often very illuminating, so I invite you to meet the work of Prof Valentina Zhakova and recommend you follow it up after a Youtube search on her name.

JR Cosgrove
4 years 8 months ago

My comment was addressed to Mr Kopacz.

Stanley Kopacz
4 years 8 months ago

Of course, your friend's parents house should have a wider beachfront given the millions of dollars spent moving sand and building jetties. But, of course, global climate effects can be predicted by what happens with one shorefront house in New Jersey. Now, THAT is real science. Who needs all that scientific research.

JR Cosgrove
4 years 8 months ago

One house that was remarkably spared? No, tens of thousands just like it. That is real. No rising tides in photos taken from over 100 years ago. That is real. And hundreds of failed predictions.

Jim Smith
4 years 8 months ago

Clouds, man, clouds!
Their reflective function and their blanket function is vastly complex and current knowledge does not allow any sort of useful abstraction. Water vapour, liquid droplets and ice crystals.
Moving in three dimensions with turbulent flows.
Publish the peer-reviewed equations of turbulent fluid flow and I will not only credit what you say, will vote for awarding both the Physics and Mathematics Nobel prizes to you.
Clausius-Claperon principle (sp) is a description of EQUILIBRIUM states. Absurdly irrelevant.
Besides, the enhancement predicted is not observed.
Each cause of global warming heats up the atmosphere in a distinctive pattern -its signature.
According to IPPC climate theory, the signature of carbon emissions and the signature of warming due to all
causes during the recent global warming both include a prominent hotspot - at about 10 –12 km in the air - over
the tropics.
But the warming pattern observed by radiosondes during the recent global warming contains no trace of any such hotspot. Therefore, IPCC climate theory is fundamentally wrong when tested by DATA.
And, the entire sweep of paleo-history studied from ice core data demonstrates that CO2 and ocean temperature are correlated - the CO2 rises and falls AFTER the temperature changes. Our output contributes either nothing or a minuscule amount in the vast pool of the global atmosphere. The slow luke-warming of us emerging from an ice-age is responsible.

Stay with your devotion to lies, damned lies and statistics or catch up.
Note, the DATA, a COUNT of extreme weather events, reveals LESS and NOT MORE

Stanley Kopacz
4 years 8 months ago

Oh, for goodness sake. When is anything really in equilibrium? Do I have to apply Navier-Stokes equations to my home before I know that I need to use a humidifier in the winter? Warmer air has greater capacity to hold water vapor. If you can dismiss anything as fundamental as Clausius-Clapeyron, I have to dismiss anything you have to say.
As far as the clouds are concerned, the atmosphere is warming and the oceans are warming despite any effects of clouds which both reflect light and trap heat. Global warming is happening. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Ask Venus.
There was no tropical hot spot in the atmosphere predicted by climate science. It actually predicts cooling. As for the radiosonde data, sampling over the years is a sketchy basis on which to test the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis.
Milankovic cycles have driven the cycle of ice ages and warm periods over the latest millions of years with cycles of tens of thousands of years. CO2 released by warming oceans amplified the effect. I think you know what a positive feedback is? Again. CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
Lies, damn lies and statistics? I believe that may apply to sociology and economics but is harder to apply to a physical science such as climatology. If we are to ignore the work and data gathering of climatologists, we are left with the obfuscation and doubt manufacture of climate deniers talking out of their asses.

The latest from america

In an exclusive interview with Gerard O’Connell, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, one of the synod’s most influential figures, discusses the role of women, bishops and all the baptized in a synodal church.
Gerard O’ConnellJuly 12, 2024
While theatrical and beautiful, I have come to understand that the Mass is not a show. It is a miracle.
Rebecca Moon RuarkJuly 12, 2024
An image from the new Netflix adaptation of "Avatar: The Last Airbender"
The new Netflix adaptation fails to capture what made the original not only beautiful, but also of great interest for Catholics.
Reed ProctorJuly 12, 2024
“The Godfather Part III” (1990) is the most explicitly Catholic entry in the series.
John DoughertyJuly 12, 2024