BEAR WITH ME HERE. I am trying to work things out, and the following will be me showing my working. Things seem rather opaque. One thing is the lack of comprehensive data to work from. That itself is unsettling. Nevertheless, onward and upward…
The Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon Synod released last Wednesday has been received by “progressives” as a disappointment in that it evaded “needed” reforms and innovations, and by “conservatives” as the Church having dodged a bullet.
Yet I am left wondering about the very synod itself. Why was one held in the first place? In Rome? At such expense? And producing a claimed total of 572,808kg in CO2 emissions? It seemed to me that there must be a massive Catholic Church down there, hidden from my narrow ken, and so long neglected that it needed the assistance of a Rome-based synod.
After a little difficult digging I see that the huge pan-Amazon region has a population of around 33.6 million, of whom around “70-80%” live in cities. So that leaves about 6.7 million living outside cities. The indigenous population for the region has been put at a little under 2.8 million. Some of these must live in cities though perhaps not that many.
OK. So we are not talking about huge totals, but it is enough for the universal Church to take note of it, certainly. But a Synod in Rome? Why such weight attached to this region? Is it simply because the pope is himself South American (though from a country outside the Amazon region)? Moreover, given that the emphasis of the synod was almost exclusively on the indigenous population, that this 0.2% of the global Catholic population warrants a Roman synod devoted to them is quite remarkable.
Perhaps the real reason lay in the disastrous decline in the Catholic population of the Amazon region in general. 46% of the pan-Amazonian total of 33.6 million have abandoned the Catholic faith, mostly for small Protestant sects. While a number of areas around the world have similarly sparse populations spread across wide areas and served by few priests (remote Australia comes to mind), I doubt they could match this precipitous decline. The argument, I guess, is that they need more priests, and greater access to more heavily inculturated liturgies. If Bishop Erwin Kräutler is right and the indigenous peoples are incapable of comprehending clerical celibacy, then those priests need to be married, he claims.
Even if the indigenous people of the Amazon find clerical celibacy strange, does that mean they cannot be educated as to its purpose and so come to understand it? Kräutler seems to think not, which seems at best patronizing and at worst racist. As the Ethiopian eunuch attested, how can anyone learn unless someone teach them (cf Acts 8:31)? Is anyone teaching them? Not Bishop Kräutler it seems, who glories in never having baptised or converted anyone in his 34 years as a missionary bishop. Then there is the Italian mission to the Yanonamis in Brazil which has baptised no one in 53 years.
So perhaps the problem arises not from a lack of priests, but from a lack of priests performing their ministry, a lack of evangelization. Note that the 46% decline in the Catholic population of the Amazon region has occurred since the 70s and 80s. Bishop Krautler and the Italian missionaries seem to typify a “missionary” enterprise that is little more than secular accompaniment.
I am left with the growing impression that the Synod was called for and used by such as Herr Kräutler, and a significant proportion of the German episcopacy, not for the sake of the peoples of the Amazon at all but for their own agenda. Others no doubt have said this already. But it pays to come to one’s own conclusions.
What is that agenda? It seems to be establishing a wedge with which to prise open a much bigger door, that of the universal Church. If one could have married priests in the Amazon, then the precedent has been set which can be applied to the rest of the Church.
Conspiracy theorizing? Maybe. But I cannot help but think of a paper given by Professor Stephen Bullivant in 2016—“Especially in mission territories”: New Evangelization and Liturgical (Reform of the) Reform—about the Vatican Council’s liturgical provisions for the missions. He noted its concession that “In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed” (SC 40). This applied to the rites, books and music. Bullivant noted that the Council clearly had in mind that “terrae Missionum are undoubtedly ‘classic’ mission territories”, but that many European Council fathers would have seen that “large areas of western Europe, the very
heart of Christendom, were already, and with good reason, being described as mission
territories in their own right.”
These are two different sets of mission being easily conflated: the mission to the unevangelized, and the mission to those already evangelized and now lapsed, which was at the heart of the New Evangelization. When you self-define your country as missionary, then one can apply missionary exceptions and provisions to your own area, even if it is in France or the USA. Bullivant uses liturgical music as an example. The Council allowed for some use of the vernacular musical traditions of the local culture in mission territories. Well, if the USA is really a mission territory now, in a sea of secularism and indifferentism, then that provision could be applied there, surely. But whose vernacular? The 40-somethings? The teenagers? Says Bullivant:
such experiments in vernacular music were, from the start, fraught with
difficulties. Chief among these, of course, is: Whose vernacular? A certain style of non-
traditional vernacular music might, among a limited group, truly aid ’active participation’
(something which, incidentally, the Sacred Congregation of Rites’ 1967 instruction Musicam
Sacram rightly stresses to be primarily ‘interior’). But in western societies, at least, this is
certainly not the case in, say, a typical parish congregation. This general problem is
exacerbated where the vernacular music of, say, (some) young people thirty, or forty, or fifty
years ago is still being offered up.
You can see the point. One area of the Church receives a pastoral concession, and that then ends up being applied almost universally since the precedent has been established, and one then self-defines so as to be able to apply it. The Western Church is stark eveidence of this.
The emerging and largely unaddressed question is: with all these pastoral provisions made and imposed and enforced, why has Mass attendance plummeted ever since these reforms?
So if the Amazon could get married priests, you could be sure the German Church would soon be pushing for it. Oh, in fact, Cardinal Marx already has. And his German synod has gone to the next logical step.
So the Amazon Synod, it seems to me, had very little to do really with the 2.8 million indigenous people of the Amazon. It appears to have been a vehicle to be used for another agenda, making use of the plan of action set by the liturgical reform: get it done in one place, then it can be done in any place. Get that foot in the door, and it can be flung wide open with enough force. With the liturgy it has failed miserably in its avowed aims; I have little doubt the reforms lobbied for by Marx et al would have the same outcome.
The real victims are the people of the Amazon, who appear to have been well and truly used to serve northern hemisphere interests. Who said imperialism is dead?
Miraculously, despite significant momentum, secular sympathy and official encouragement, the project failed. For now.