AT the start of the synod of Amazon bishops at the Vatican on October 6, it was widely projected that the synod would unanimously draft and submit proposals that would not only be reformist, but impact doctrine and practice in the Roman Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion believers around the world.
The synod has completed its proposals and submitted them to Pope Francis for appropriate papal action. He can either approve the recommendations or set them aside.
At the synod, the bishops from across the Amazon called for the ordination of married men as priests in order to address the clergy shortage problem in their region.
Attention has now turned to Pope Francis, who will prepare his own document on the proposals. This is expected by year’s end, and his words could determine whether married priests and female deacons will eventually become a reality in the Amazon.
Beyond the Amazon, the bigger question is whether the Amazon synod’s proposals will impact the much greater global church.
Opinion in the Church is widely divided.
German Catholics have enthusiastically welcomed the proposals. Such reforms have been pushed for decades by many German bishops and lay groups who hope it can lead to the liberalization of centuries of Roman Catholic tradition.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode from Osnabrueck, Germany, welcomed the proposals and suggested that a European synod similar to last month’s assembly by the Amazon bishops could be a useful way to address pressing issues in the continent.
The German Church will stage two-year “synodal path” meetings with the German Bishops Conference that holds its first plenary session in January in Frankfurt. It is widely expected to push for married priests and the ordination of women, among other reforms.
The synod’s proposals have not been universally embraced outside the region. There is resistance elsewhere to the proposals, with the conservative Catholic establishment making sure its voice is heard.
Some key cardinals at the Vatican and elsewhere have voiced opposition, warning that married priests in the Amazon would create far-reaching, negative effects on the priesthood elsewhere for the 1.2 billion-member Church, while also opening the door to an even greater problem: What to do about divorced priests?
Most of these critics are from the hierarchy’s conservative camp that has grown bolder in voicing skepticism or outright opposition to Francis. They form part of the high-level criticism that is buffeting the papacy over issues such as the clerical sexual abuse scandal, allegations of financial improprieties in the Holy See and doctrinal concerns.
One conservative critic said: “I often hear people say that (celibacy) is only a question of historical discipline. I think that that is wrong. Celibacy reveals the very essence of the Christian priesthood. To speak about it as a secondary reality is hurtful to all the priests of the world.”
Outside the Vatican, Cardinal Camillo Ruini — a conservative who was St. John Paul II’s vicar for Rome and the head of the Italian Bishops Conference — also criticized the proposal and said he “hopes and prays that the pope…doesn’t confirm it.”
Most US bishops have so far avoided emphatic pronouncements about the synod. One of the more outspoken ones is Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, who says celibacy “is a living gift of a man to the church and should be the norm.”
Surveying all this, it occurs to us to ask: What do the high princes and bishops of the Philippine Catholic Church think about these questions and issues that have engaged ecclesiastical officials in debate all over the world?
Surely, your eminences, you don’t need to call your own synod to know what you think.