Don’t Overreact to the Amazonian Synod’s Working Document

Have faith in Christ and have faith in the Vicar of Christ. Do not put yourself above the Pope to judge him.

The document is here:
Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology: Preparatory Document of the Synod of Bishops for the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazon Region.

There has been much criticism of this document, especially from papal critics. The main point to understand is that this is only a working document. It claims no magisterial authority for itself. The Church does not require the faithful to believe any assertions in a working document. It essentially contains no official teachings, except those also taught in actual magisterial documents and repeated there.

Secondly, this Synod is local, not general. Third, it is quite far from being an Ecumenical Council, so the Synod itself cannot teach infallibly. Fourth, the accusations made against this working document have no basis in its actual contents, as will be shown in this article.

What will happen at the Amazonian Synod itself? We shall have to wait and see. But there’s no cause for alarm in the current text that we have available to us.

German Bishops

The UK Catholic publication The Tablet, in May 2019, published a sensational article: Why Amazon summit “could change the Church for ever”. Who is making that claim about a local Synod changing the Church forever? A German Bishop, not a Bishop from the Amazonian region.

“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”.”

Meanwhile, the Holy See has already rebuked the German Bishops for proposals at their own planned local Synod. And the working document for the Amazon says no such thing. It does not propose married priests.

Another German Bishop hinted at the ordination of women via the Amazonian Synod.

“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”.” [Why Amazon summit “could change the Church for ever”]

Overbeck is not involved in the Amazon Synod. His position with the German Bishops’ Latin America commission has no real influence over doctrinal or disciplinary decision in that region. So this article is sensationalizing the Amazon Synod based on comments from Bishops in other regions of the world, who are not involved in that Synod.

Women’s Roles

The Working document says this about women’s roles in the Church:

“Along these lines, it is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church.” (n. 14)

“Official ministry” is a far cry from “female priests”. Pope Francis has already said that women cannot be priests, and that the question is closed.

However, it is well-known among theologians — and bitterly denied by papal critics — that the ordination of women as deacons is an open question. The Magisterium have never answered the question as to whether the Church possesses the authority to ordain women to the diaconate. Pope Saint John Paul II left that question open when he wrote Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

Even so, the Amazon Synod is local, and is very unlikely to propose ordained women deacons for the whole Church. A local Synod has local authority.

The only real possibility for women deacons in this Synod is as follows. The Amazon Synod could revive the ancient role of non-ordained women deacons. This would not conflict with any teaching of the Church, and would require only a change to a few Canons, a papal document (moto proprio), and a decision of the Synod to enact.

It is a myth that women deacons in the early Church only served to assist females at baptism, because baptism was performed by immersion and without clothing. Romans 16:1-2 makes it clear that deaconesses were involved in many tasks for the Church:

[Romans 16]
{16:1} Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is in the ministry of the church, which is at Cenchreae,
{16:2} so that you may receive her in the Lord with the worthiness of the saints, and so that you may be of assistance to her in whatever task she will have need of you. For she herself has also assisted many, and myself also.

The term “ministry” above, in Greek, is the same work that gives rise to the word deacon. Phoebe is widely considered to have been a deaconess. And we see that her tasks “assisted many” including Paul. And Paul was not a woman in need of baptism by immersion. Paul writes to the Church at Rome to receive Phoebe and assist her in “whatever task” she might be performing. This is broad, not narrow, and obviously extends far beyond baptizing females.

However, if the Amazon revives non-ordained women deacons, this could lead to a worldwide revival of the role. Eventually, the Pope could decide to ordain these deaconesses. That would be a long process.

It is possible, but not likely, that the Amazon Synod could jump directly to the ordination of women deacons. This would require a teaching from Pope Francis to the universal Church and a change to Canon Law. The Synod itself lacks the authority, but it could prompt the Roman Pontiff to act for the whole Church.

I don’t see this possibility as a problem. Every Roman Pontiff is preserved by the prevenient grace of God from ever teaching heresy or any grave error, from enacting any discipline which would gravely harm the Church, and from committing apostasy, heresy, or schism. If Pope Francis teaches that women can be ordained as deacons, then that is the teaching of Christ. And we should accept it with faith. If you only accepts “with faith” the teachings that match your own thinking, you do not have faith at all. Be submissive and humble before the Vicar of Christ and the Magisterium.

Apostasy?

Some leaders in the Church have said that the working document represents a type of apostasy, a complete rejection of Christianity. I see no evidence of this at all in the document. It certainly is not stated plainly or explicitly. The reason for the accusation seems to be that some of the descriptions of the Amazon region and its people reference the good found in the diversity of religions there. This does not imply that the Church would adopt those religions, or make an amalgam of those religions with Christianity (which would then be apostasy). We must simply meet the people where they are, and lead them to the fullness of truth in Christ.

Faith in the Pope

Every Pope has the gift of truth (immunity from error) and a never failing faith. These are gifts to his person, not merely his office. The faith of the Pope is the infused gift of supernatural faith given to the person of the Pope. This faith can never fail, therefore, no Pope can commit apostasy, heresy, or schism, not even hidden in his heart and mind, and certainly he cannot lead the faithful into these sins. Otherwise, he would not be the Rock that Jesus promised he would be.

This gift of immunity from error is threefold: (1) immunity from all error when the Pope is speaking infallibly (Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, Ordinary and universal Magisterium), then (2) immunity from grave error when he is teaching non-infallibly, and also (3) the Pope is immune from grave errors whenever he is making decisions of discipline. This immunity from error is a gift to his person, not merely his office, just as is the gift of a never failing faith. Thus, even the Pope’s own understanding of the Catholic Faith, and his personal theological opinions cannot err gravely.

The Roman Pontiff: Immunity from Error and Never-failing Faith

So we need no fear the Amazonian Synod. A local Synod can err gravely — but the Pope cannot err gravely. So as Pope Francis is keeping watch over that Synod, we need not worry. Notice that the German Bishops made some erroneous proposals for their local Synod, and the Holy See intervened. As long as we keep our faith in the Pope, no matter who he may be, we will not be led astray and we will not fall away.

Each Pope has the gift to be able to teach infallibly, without any errors at all. Which is more difficult, to teach with no errors at all or to teach with no grave errors? Since he certainly is able to teach infallibly with no errors at all, how is it that people imagine he can teach at other times with grave errors? Such a plan for the Church would not make much sense. It would be as if the pilot of the Ark of Salvation could steer the ship safely only rarely (when infallible) and the rest of the time keep running the ship aground. God’s plan for the Church is sound, therefore the prevenient grace of God keeps the Pope at all times from grave errors on doctrine and discipline, so that the ship is never lost and never sinks.

Pope Francis cannot err gravely on discipline or doctrine, nor can his faith fail by apostasy, heresy, or schism. And Pope Francis has the role to teach and correct the Cardinals, Bishops, priests, deacons, religious, theologians, and laity, but they have no such role to teach or correct him. For the First See is judged by no one. Therefore, they go astray who exalt themselves above Pope Francis or the body of Bishops to judge, correct, teach, or rebuke them. And they commit the sin of schism who utterly reject the authority of Pope Francis over them, refusing to submit themselves to his correction.

Now if the Pope corrects some in the Church for being too rigid, and you complain about this, are you not self-identifying as someone with that fault? Accept correction. The Pope is right that conservative Catholics have faults, especially that they do not accept correction or criticism, and they are very rigid in their theology. They have dogmatized many theological opinions — such as the opinion that women cannot be deacons. They should stop rebelling against the Pope, every time he does his job by teaching or correcting them.

Conservatives only want “teachers” who tell them what they already think is true. If anyone teaches them something they did not already know, they reject him and his teaching — out of pride, I think. There are errors within the conservative Catholic subculture, and the Pope does have the role from God to correct those errors. And if they do not accept correction, they will fall into schism. Many are already in a state of formal schism, as they have obstinately rejected the required submission to the Roman Pontiff.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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3 Responses to Don’t Overreact to the Amazonian Synod’s Working Document

  1. Hi Ron,
    Many thanks for your writings as I find them so helpful in these times.
    I am confused however by the website CatholicCulture.org where it says :-

    Term

    ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION

    Definition

    The omen of future calamity, predicted by the prophet Daniel and referred to by Christ (Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15). Daniel seems to be foretelling the erection of a statue of Zeus in the Temple of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes (168 B.C.). Christ applied the prophecy to the siege of Jerusalem by the pagan enemies of Rome in A.D. 70. This was to be a sign for the Christians to flee Jerusalem.

    A)Is there more than one abomination of desolation?
    B)Some say it will be at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem while others suggest it will happen in the current centre of the Catholic world : Rome. Where in your opinion should be cast our gaze?

    God bless.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The abomination of desolation is described in my books of eschatology, especially The Second Part of the Tribulation; it is a perverse imitation of the Eucharist used by the Antichrist in his false religion.

  2. Alex says:

    I think that the Church has the right to change all that is not a dogma, and she has been changing rules for long in her history. Did Jesus prescribe all of that? It is the Church that decided it, based on the Gospel’s interpretation in the particular time and society.

    We know of the Orthodox Churches who have much more relaxed rules on some points, while being strict on tradition otherwise. And they are accepted by the Catholic Church with all their sacraments as valid (including when they give Holy Communion or bless a second marriage, by a priest who is validly ordained and who has a wife and children).

    I really don’t understand why that hurricane against the possibility of women deacons or married priests? Read the martyrology of the women’s role in the early Church. Or read the Holy Gospel when it was clearly said Peter was married. The fanatics will say, his wife was dead by the time of his ministry…how fast they killed her! Should I talk of Mary Magdalene?

    And I even don’t want to enter into the issues of homosexuality, because of the big objection of many fanatics. As pope Francis said during one of the Synods, we should beg forgiveness from the homosexual people throughout the centuries.

    Why is it that the celibacy has been allowed in early Church, when in the Old Testament everyone without exception had to marry, including the priests and the prophets? How could we see in Practical terms all those millions men who lived alone, who weren’t all saints, that the Church not only allowed them but encouraged them to live in all men communities? I do not want to say they were all acting homosexual. I want to say, that a person who likes women, would never go in such a community for obvious reasons.

    But..the obvious reasons and the common sense are outside the scope of those who pretend to know it all, even more than the popes and the last council. I wonder what if Vatican III is called, with the results of all those Synods made obligatory?

    The ultra conservatives overstate the “errors” of Amazon synod and virtually every word of pope Francis. In 16th century they would have objected other things, and so on. Perhaps for them the drawings on the Sistine chapel of naked people are a wide open door to hell… They live in imaginary world. They are not rooted in the Gospel that is written for people full of life and also NORMAL people. The Church has the right to change her structure, rules, and everything else, except for the dogmas. What is being discussed is not a dogma. Despite cardinal Muller called it so, practically trampling the high office he once held. As pope Francis said, the Canon law is not found in the Gospel.

    But what strange, those fanatic people have already decided they will fight the “antichrist” as they say in their websites and forums, with the clear reference to the Holy Father…They are already another church not in communion, should I say much more not in communion than the state of the Orthodox and some Protestant churches are.

    Pope Francis once will be canonized, mark my words! Maybe sooner than expected, if his successor is even bigger reformer.

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