ROME – For the first time in one of the Vatican’s daily news briefings during the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, a dissenting voice was struck Wednesday about the idea of ordaining married men to solve priest shortages in the region.
“I don’t see celibacy as the main problem” in attracting young men to the priesthood, said Bishop Wellington Tadeu de Queiroz Vieira of Cristalândia in Brazil, emphasizing that nobody had appointed him a spokesman for the synod but nevertheless saying, “I think there are many who share my views.”
“We’ve got other problems, and the main one that has to be addressed is our own lack of consistency, our infidelity and scandals, our lack of holiness, that sometimes represents an obstacle preventing other young people from following this path,” Queiroz said.
“We must allow people to hear the calling of Jesus, and sometimes because of our actions they’re unable to do so,” he said.
“If I lead a holy life, I won’t have a problem with ordained ministers, because young people are looking for values and things they can believe in,” Queiroz said, “and I can’t believe that Jesus has lost his power of attraction.”
The Brazilian prelate also raised another dimension of the debate around priest shortages, which is imbalances in the way priests are distributed. Within countries, he said, sometimes priests don’t want to take what are usually considered hardship assignments.
“We have a problem with equal distribution at the local level,” he said. “The lack of priests could be mitigated if we did it better, but sometimes there’s not always a missionary spirit, a willingness to go to border areas and difficult areas.”
Acknowledging that the question of how to solve priest shortages and make sure people have access to the sacraments has been widely discussed in the synod, Queiroz said “we’ve got many ideas that are also different.”
Nevertheless, the 51-year-old prelate said there’s no bare-knuckled brawl going on.
“People think we’re having an argument or fighting one against the other, but this is not the case,” he said, claiming instead the synod has been characterized by “a very brotherly environment of great mutual respect.”
The Vatican’s official briefers, meanwhile, took pains Wednesday to stress that participants don’t want the exercise to get bogged down with specific problems, striving instead to focus on the big picture.
“Let’s look at the tree, not just the branches,” said Paolo Ruffini, the Vatican’s communications czar, trying to express what he described as a common sentiment inside the synod.
“We’re more or less halfway through, and what emerged yesterday quite strongly is a perceived need shared by the entire assembly, and in the small groups too, not to focus on individual themes that divide the synodal process up, [but to] identify a common and unified vision,” Ruffini said.
Ruffini then ticked off several big-picture themes which, he said, have emerged so far.
- Protecting the environment of the Amazon as part of humanity’s “common home,” leading to a call to ecological conversion and denouncing ecological sins.
- Interculturality and dialogue as key parts of the Church’s mission.
- Access to the sacraments.
- Education/formation of both clergy and laity
- Lay people and women.
- Migration, depopulation of rural areas and life in the cities.
- Human rights.
The fate of the Amazon’s indigenous peoples was highlighted Wednesday by Yesica Patiachi Tayori, pastoral worker of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado in Peru and an expert in the language and culture of the Harakbut people.
“Indigenous persons in the synod are the guardians of the forest, but taking care of our common home is everybody’s responsibility,” she said.
“We’re afraid of losing our languages, becoming extinct, being suffocated by development models that come from the outside,” Patiachi Tayori said.
“We ask the Holy Father to bring our message to authorities at the international level, helping us to not become extinct, to respect our customs, traditions and languages, and our right to live in self-determination,” she said.
There was a fair bit of talk about the role of women during Wednesday’s briefing, with both Queiroz and Bishop Pedro José Conti of Macapá in Brazil stressing the front-line roles played by women in the region. Neither man, however, directly responded to questions either about the possibility of female deacons or about the representation of women inside the synod itself.
Finally, a reporter from LifeSite News asked about an indigenous statue of a naked pregnant woman that was displayed during a ceremony in the Vatican gardens just before the synod began, wondering what its precise spiritual meaning is.
Ruffini said that he would seek more information, but he said it’s his personal view that it’s simply a statue representing life and that “looking for pagan symbols is seeking evil where there’s no evil.”
Italian Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, who’s also delivering the daily briefings, said his impression is that the statue depicts “an indigenous woman who brings life and represents life.”
“I think it’s just a female figure that has no sacred or pagan value,” Costa said, expressing skepticism about some reports that the statue might also be an indigenous depiction of the Virgin Mary.
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, synod participants are meeting in 12 small working groups organized by language, which are divided into five Spanish, four Portuguese, two Italian and one English/French. It’s the second cycle of small group sessions, with the idea being to provide input to a drafting commission working on a preliminary version of the synod’s concluding document.
Ruffini said Wednesday that the Vatican’s hope is to release copies of the reports of those small groups Friday afternoon.
Follow John Allen on Twitter: @JohnLAllenJr
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