Yesterday, I had planned to get up at 5am to get an early glimpse of Pope Francis's post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia.
But I was awakened at 2:30am by the pinging of my phone. When I looked I had sixteen messages. My sisters and colleageues from Europe and beyond were combing through the Spanish language version of Pope Francis's post synodal exhortation, and they were not impressed.
On the one hand, Querida Amazonia is a tender love letter, an impassioned plea to all the People of God to walk in solidarity with the People of the Amazon and to serve alongside them as guardians of their land and all its creatures.
And while the exhortation lays out a dream for the Amazon along with a reasoned path for curtailing and transforming the destructive forces at work in the Amazon, the document fails to aid the people of the Amazon in developing the necessary models of ministry they requested in order to carry out the work of saving the Amazon -- the work of the Gospel.
What about Women?
Last October, as a writer for FutureChurch's FOCUSNews, I attended the daily press briefings and conducted interviews with synod participants with a particular eye to what the women were doing, saying, and thinking.
During those weeks, I had the honor of listening to many of the stories that women and women religious of the Amazon were sharing. I was struck by the obstacles and dangers they faced, their absolute commitment to the people and land they loved, as well as their deep faith in God, in each other, in the Church, and in Pope Francis.
They were humble in their self estimations, but bold and strong in their advocacy for their people. They called the Church to step up, hear their voices, and help them fend off those who would exploit and murder their people and their land. They wanted to create a safe world for all life in the Amazon.
Their fierce determination reminded me of the women I met many years ago during my time as the director of a domestic violence prevention agency and shelter.
All my life, I have fought for women's dignity, equality, and human rights, but I learned my best lessons from the women who came through our shelter door. With three or four children in tow, they sought a way out of the war zone which was their home.
Those courageous women taught me that no matter how it appeared to those of us on the outside, their instincts instructed them on just how to navigate the dangerous terrain they travelled. While their path often looked chaotic, even "weak" to those who didn't understand, these women knew when it was safe enough to flee and when it was better to hunker down and bear the abuse. They knew the quickened breath of their angry abuser or the slight tick in his voice. Ultimately, they knew how to save the lives of their children as well as their own life.
Our job -- my job -- at the shelter was to honor their instincts and wisdom, help them see what options were available, and to give them everything they needed to navigate the war zone in which they lived. We always did everything in our power to support and protect these women and their children.
Tragically, that is not what Pope Francis did in Querida Amazonia. He did not do everything in his power to support and protect the women, children, and men of the Amazon and their land.
While with other cases, it might be more understandable for the Vatican to "stand back" and move slowly, in this case where a beleaguered people are crying out for the Church's help -- where life and land are being murdered and "disappeared" daily, his position is indefensible.
Even more astounding, in this tight knit world where men only listen to other men, Francis's disregard for his brothers in the Amazon is inexcusable.
I developed a deep regard for many of the bishops from the Amazon region. They had no "bishop-centered" illusions about how their church functioned. They knew it was the women and women religious who were building, ministering, and maintaining the fragile church in remote regions there. And they wanted to see these women get what they needed in order to grow and strengthen the Church there. Many of them asked for the establishment of ordained diaconal ministry for women. Others wanted the discussion opened.
Bishop Erwin Kraulter of Brazil was one of the bishops who was most eloquent about this need saying, "Two thirds of our communities are animated by women. We have to think about this. We have to proclaim the women and their work. We need concrete solutions. So why not women deacons?"
In the face of these reasonable requests, Francis stalled.
Further, these bishops asked that the priesthood be opened to married men. Their reasoning was specific to the needs and culture of their people. Along with the women who were ministering, they needed more priests to nourish their people with the Eucharist and the sacraments.
Again, Bishop Krautler was clear about their reality.
"There is a campaign against the indigenous people and the people feel the church is not standing next to them, helping to protect their lives. So we need to increase the presence of the church. And we need another way to increase that presence - married men."
Keeping it real, Krautler added, "I am saying this with great sincerity. There is no other option. The people do not understand celibacy."
This conversation is not new to Pope Francis. When Krautler met with him in 2015, he told the Pope:
In 2015, I met with the pope informing him about the Amazon and I continue to play that role. I had presented three aspects that needed to be addressed; 1) Amazon destruction, 2) Indigenous people, and 3) the Eucharist.
There are thousands of communities who do not have the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the core, the apex of our faith, and these people are practically excluded from the heart of the church. There is not church without the Eucharist.
We want our people to have not only the Eucharistic prayer, but the Eucharist.
What are the possibilities for priesthood today? Now we have only celibacy. And in my opinion, we hold celibacy is above the Eucharist. The Lord didn’t say, what you want, when you want, once in a while.
Querida Amazonia -- A Failure in Synodality
The synodal church that Pope Francis has vigorously promoted throughout his pontificate was dealt a blow by his own hand in Querida Amazonia.
In 2018, Pope Francis formally elevated the authority of the synod of bishops granting them deliberative power in Episcopalis Communio. Accordingly, the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 'participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter once it has been ratified and promulgated by him."
So while it was possible for Francis to grant that level of authority to the bishops' proposals in the final document -- proposals for married priests and opening the discussion on women deacons which passed by a two-thirds majority -- he chose not to do so.
Beyond the two-thirds majority needed for passage of the synod proposals, the percentage of approval for those same proposals was much higher among the bishops who lived in the Amazon region. Francis admitted, "I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately(3).
So why did Francis choose, not only to ignore the requests of the Amazonian bishops, but to add more obstacles to their plight? His placement of unusually rigid language regarding the priesthood in sections 87 and 88 sends the painful message that he is willing to uphold a Eurocentric model of priesthood that touts prayers for vocations and importing priests rather than listening the the wisdom of his bishops who clearly recognize that an inculturated celibate priesthood is DOA in the Amazon.
While it is both tragic and inexcuseable that Pope Francis chose a path of accomodation to his naysayers, at the expense of the people of the Amazon, it is also clear that in our history, even the most revered leaders have found conversion and transformation.
Today's Gospel from Mark 7: 24-30 is one of my favorites. It helps me to remember that when our male leaders fail, women are there to call them out and to transform the very heart of our tradition.
Read it and know that we are not alone in our quest to make the mission of the Gospel fuller and more inclusive of all God's people.
Jesus went to the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,
but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.
She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She replied and said to him,
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”
Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed
and the demon gone.