Pope Francis’ response to the synod represents a pivotal moment in his papacy. It has captivated some, disappointed others, and frustrated many. But for one of his biographers his purpose is clear: to guide the Church on the path of inculturation, towards becoming a Church of the Amazon
While the world was waiting with bated breath for a historic decision on whether to ordain married men in the Amazon region, Pope Francis was busy moving fast in a very different direction – one he had clearly marked out at last October’s synod. Yet even after days of digesting Querida Amazonia its reception remains overshadowed by the idea that the synod’s main purpose was to resolve that question, thus illustrating – with splendid irony – the need for the Pope’s deeper move.
The reactions of relieved conservatives and disappointed progressives share the assumption that the Pope chose not to accept the majority vote at the synod in order to avoid deepening divisions. It was, it has been said, his Humanae Vitae moment: like Paul VI, Francis had dared to put the issue on the table, but like him, had snatched it back again after trembling before the tribunal of history.
Whether or not that is a fair depiction of what Paul did, it is certainly not what happened last week. Querida Amazonia did not rule against ordaining married men in the Amazon, as so many headlines claimed. There was no reaffirmation of the celibacy rule. In fact, he did not mention celibacy at all. Nor did he reject the Amazonian synod’s call for such a move in its final report. Indeed, he praised the final report, recognising it as the discernment of the local Church, and urged everyone to read it.