Synod votes to ordain married men, and to protect Amazon’s indigenous peoples and rainforests
The synod on the Pan-Amazonian region concluded its work on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 26, by approving all 120 paragraphs of its final document (available in Spanish only) with the necessary two-thirds majority vote, including the one proposing the priestly ordination of “suitable and esteemed” married men who are permanent deacons in communities of this vast region.
While that latter proposal attracted much of the media attention and had the most votes against it (128-41), the most important thing to emerge from the synod was the unequivocal commitment by the church in the nine countries of the Amazon region to seek new ways to preach the Gospel and to promote justice and stand in solidarity with its 34 million inhabitants, including some 2.5 million indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, in defense of their rights to life, land and their cultures, and against all forms of violence and exploitation to which they are subject.
The final document says it is still possible to save the tropical forests and the ecosystem as well as the indigenous peoples, also through the use of advanced science and technologies.
At the same time, it committed the church in the region to work for the protection of the Amazonian rainforest, often described as one of the lungs of the earth and of vital importance for humanity. It underlined the great risks to the whole world of the deforestation of Amazonia and reports that 17 percent of the forest has already been destroyed, a fact that threatens the entire ecosystem. But the final document says it is still possible to save the tropical forests and the ecosystem as well as the indigenous peoples, also through the use of advanced science and technologies.
The synod is a consultative body and its proposals are considered as recommendations to the pope. He will decide how best to use them. Speaking at the end of the synod, Pope Francis gave instructions for the text and the votes to be published and announced his intention to issue an apostolic exhortation based on the synod’s conclusions before the end of the year.
He praised the media for its work of reporting the synod but appealed to them not to merely focus on “the disciplinary questions”—alluding to the ordination of married men, but to make known the wider and more important issues that were central to the synod’s discussion: its ecological, cultural, social and pastoral dimensions.
Pope Francis also noted in his remarks that the role of women in the Amazonian church had been highlighted at the synod, and he said “we were listening” to the discussions in the synod about women deacons.
The final document says in “a large number” of the consultations carried out in the Amazon, “the permanent diaconate for women was requested,” adding that the theme was important during the synod. Then, referring to the Study Commission on the Diaconate of Women that Pope Francis established in 2016, which “arrived at a partial result based on what the reality of the diaconate of women was like in the early centuries of the Church and its implications for today,” the final document expresses the desire of the synod “to share our experiences and reflections with the Commission and await its results” (103).
“We still haven’t realized what women mean to the church. We are just thinking about the functional side. But the role of the woman in the church goes far beyond what she can do.”
This paragraph received the support of 137 bishops, with 30 against.
In his remarks, Pope Francis told the synod participants, “I have accepted your challenge” to reconvene the papal commission on the diaconate of women, perhaps “with new members,” in order to continue studying “how the permanent diaconate worked in the early church.”
“We still haven’t realized what women mean to the church. We are just thinking about the functional side,” he added. “But the role of the woman in the church goes far beyond what she can do.”
In the final document’s section on “new paths” for a “synodal conversion,” the synod says it is “urgent” for the church in the Amazon “to promote and confer ministries for men and women in an equitable manner” (95).
There are many specific proposals that are destined to have a long-term impact on the church and peoples in the region. Among them is the significant proposal for the creation of “a liturgical rite for the indigenous peoples of the Amazon”—otherwise referred to as “an Amazonian rite,” in addition to the 23 different rites that already exist in the Catholic Church (116-119).
Concerning the possibility of ordaining married men from the church communities in Amazonia to the priesthood, the synod noted that many of these communities rarely have the Eucharist, even going for a year or more without it because of the shortage of priests. The synod proposed the establishment of criteria to ordain “men of the community, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and [who have received] an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legitimately constituted and stable family, to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.” It added that, “in this regard, some [synod fathers] were in favor of a more universal approach to the subject.”
The synod advocates the creation of “special ministries for the care of ‘our common home’ and the promotion of integral ecology at the parish level and in each ecclesiastical jurisdiction”
The synod also proposed that the church in Amazonia create a “socio-environmental and pastoral office to support the struggle in defense of life. To carry out a diagnosis of the territory and its socio-environmental conflicts in each local and regional church, in order to be able to take positions, to make decisions and defend the rights of the most vulnerable…. And to establish an office for Amazonia in the Vatican Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development” (85).
The synod advocates the creation of “special ministries for the care of ‘our common home’ and the promotion of integral ecology at the parish level and in each ecclesiastical jurisdiction” (82). It calls for greater pastoral effort to assist migrants in the region, also across national borders, with special attention to countering human trafficking and violence against women. It urges greater dialogue to build bridges with other Christian communities and encouraged inter-religious dialogue. It also calls for the church to be close to and accompany young indigenous people, noting their high suicide rate and the high percentage of them who are criminalized and incarcerated.
The synod document supports the church in the Amazon in making the laity “privileged actors” for building a society of justice and solidarity in the care of “our common home” (93) and says, in the absence of priests, the bishop may entrust the pastoral care of a community to a lay person “with an official mandate through a ritual act” (96). It calls on the Amazon church to promote “the permanent diaconate” as a matter of urgency.
It proposes the creation of “regional synodal structures in the Amazon church” which would be transnational since nine countries are involved (112-113). It also proposes the creation of “an episcopal organism that promotes synodality among the churches of the region” (115). It calls for the establishment of “an Amazon Catholic university” (114) and advocates “new paths” in urban pastoral ministry (34). The document calls on the church in the region “to distance itself from the new colonizing powers by listening to the Amazonian peoples and transparently exercising its prophetic activity” (15). It also pays tribute to “the martyrs” of the region not only in the past but also today as they work for an “integral ecology” (15).
The 33-page final document is divided into five chapters on Amazonia under the following headings: From Listening to Integral Conversion; New Paths of Pastoral Conversion; New Paths of Cultural Conversion; New Paths of Ecological Conversion; New Paths of Synodal Conversion.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., presenting the text at a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 26, underlined its call for four “conversions” because, he said, without these conversions there are “no new paths” and “no real change.”
“With the Amazon burning,” he said, “many more people are realizing that things have to change. We cannot keep repeating old responses to urgent problems and expect to get better results.”
Referring to the urgent need for an ecological conversion at the personal, communitarian and societal level, he said the ecological crisis is so deep that if we don’t change, “we’re not going to make it.”