09 May 2019, The Tablet

Why Amazon summit ‘could change the Church for ever’

by Francis McDonagh , and agencies

Will the traditional link between celibacy and the priesthood be examined?

Why Amazon summit ‘could change the Church for ever’

Brazil's Cardinal Claudio Hummes is to serve as relator general of October's Synod of Bishops on the Amazon
CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Pope Francis has chosen Brazil's Cardinal Cláudio Hummes to serve as relator general of October's Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. The nomination of the 84-year-old retired Archbishop of Sao Paulo was announced at the Vatican last weekend. The relator is responsible for providing a comprehensive outline of the synod's theme at the beginning of the meeting and for summarising the speeches of synod members before work begins on concrete proposals for the pope.

Scheduled for 6 to 27 October, the synod will focus on "Amazonia: New paths for the church and for an integral ecology".

Cardinal Hummes currently serves as president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (Repam), a body founded by Caritas Internationalis that promotes the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.

The Vatican also announced that Pope Francis had chosen two special secretaries for the synod: Bishop David Martínez De Aguirre Guinea, the apostolic vicar of Puerto Maldonado, Peru, and Jesuit Fr Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

When he announced the synod in 2017, Pope Francis said it would seek to identify new paths of evangelisation, especially for indigenous people who are "often forgotten and left without the prospect of a peaceful future, including because of the crisis of the Amazon forest", which plays a vital role in the environmental health of the entire planet.

Bishop Martínez commented that the team would have to “try to be faithful to the peoples of the Amazon, the communities along the river-banks, the indigenous, so many people in our Amazon towns in our dream of helping them and responding to the challenges that our Amazon Church faces, not only for itself, but also for the whole planet.”

The executive secretary of the synod, Mauricio López, said that these appointments express the Pope’s “deep commitment to the realities on the ground, his love for the Church that is on its journey, its pilgrimage, immersing itself in the cultures of the region”, and stem from his “desire for the synod to produce a thorough, careful reform and a deep love for the Church of the incarnate Christ that seeks to enlighten the universal Church and help the process of producing new ideas”.

These appointments represent the importance of Brazil and Peru among the nine countries of the Amazon region involved in the synod. 

Consultations have been taking place throughout the region in Church groups and local communities that will be reflected in the Working Document for the synod, expected to be published in June.

Meanwhile Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, the Vice-President of the German Bishops’ conference, said in an interview that the model of married “priests with a civil job” will “probably be presented to the Pope by the Latin American bishops at the Amazon Synod in October”.

Speaking with the regional newspaper Osnabrücker Zeitung, Bishop Bode made it clear that he is in favour of “rethinking the link between celibacy and the priesthood”.

“Priests with a civil job” could “celebrate the Eucharist” and also provide “the corresponding priestly services”, he said. The “high and proper estimation of celibacy shall always be preserved”, he explained, but it should be “enriched by other priestly forms of life.”

The German bishop also spoke in favour of female deacons “as a sign of recognition, esteem, and change of status of women in the Church who are today in large numbers active in charitable fields and in the field of the diaconate”.

Bishop Bode is the second German bishop to point to the Amazon Synod as the moment where the Church will open herself, most probably, to some fundamental changes.

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen has called for a new “image of priest” in light of the fact that, in the Amazon region, there are often women religious who are influential in the local parishes.

“The face of the local church is female,” said Overbeck, who is the head of the German bishops' Latin America commission, which provides financial and pastoral support to Latin America.

Overbeck said that the Amazon Synod will lead the Catholic Church to a “point of no return” and that, thereafter, “nothing will be the same as it was”. Bishop Erwin Kräutler, a proponent of married and female priests, is the author of the working document for the upcoming Synod.

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