SÃO PAULO – In Brazil, most of the criticism directed towards the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon came from the government, not from members of the hierarchy.

Bishop José Luís Azcona is among the minority of Brazilian prelates to raise concerns about the synod, calling the Vatican meeting’s preparatory document “weak and inconsistent.” Still, he has sought to distance his criticism from that of President Jair Bolsonaro, who he said wants to meddle in the Brazilian Church.

In the past few months, the Spanish-born Azcona, bishop emeritus of the Prelature of Marajó – located in the Amazonian State of Pará – has been vocal in his strong criticism of the working document, called the Instrumentum Laboris.

According to the bishop, the Instrumentum Laboris excluded the Crucified Christ when dealing with central themes such as the creation, cultures, dialogue, interculturality, pastoral dialogue, and hope.

“It’s a worrisome absence, pastorally and ecclesiastically cowardly, prostrated to the prevalent secularism and with an effect on the heart of the Church and of the synod,” he told Crux.

In one article, Azcona said the working document denies the uniqueness and the exclusivity of Christ’s path, putting it on the same level as “all religions and creeds and affirming there are other legitimate ways to salvation.”

Without focusing on an “evangelizing dialogue,” he said, the Church would become a “grandiose and imposing universal NGO, specialized in humanism.”

However, Azcona insists he is not against the synod, just against, the Instrumentum Laboris, and his criticism “does not reach the pope.”

“On the contrary, I explicitly make citations of the Holy Father that directly oppose the Instrumentum Laboris and I accuse it of not having assimilated in its main affirmations the encyclical Laudato Si’,” he told Crux.

Azcona said the working document misses the main significance of the concept of “ecological conversion, distorting its sense and deviating it to aspects that are important, but are not essential in the conception and reality of the ecological conversion.”

“The same is valid for the deficient use of the concept of integral ecology,” he added.

The bishop said many pages of the Instrumentum Laboris are tainted with Pelagianism, the Christian heresy attacked by Saint Augustine for minimizing the role of divine grace in salvation, and with Gnosticism.

“This is not present at all in Pope Francis’s magisterium,” he said, mentioning the pontiff’s documents Evangelii Gaudium and Gaudete et exsultate.

“In this sense and in many other aspects, the text of the Instrumentum Laboris is weak, inconsistent, a testimony of a unique way of thinking, and therefore dangerous for the freedom of thought in the Church and particularly in the Amazon.”

Azcona’s harsh comments are a rare expression of criticism to the synod in the Brazilian Church, where no real debate has taken place since the preparatory documents for the bishops’ summit were published.

Although the rightwing Brazil-based Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP) has strongly campaigned against the synod, the most prominent critics in the country belong to the Bolsonaro administration.

The government says it is “monitoring” the Vatican gathering, to make sure it doesn’t infringe on the sovereignty of Brazil, which holds around 60 percent of the Amazon region.

A story published by the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo reported the Bolsonaro administration considered the Brazilian Church to be part of the leftist opposition.

For his part, Azcona accused Bolsonaro and his aids of “Josephinism,” a reference to the 18th century Austrian Emperor Joseph II, who sought to subordinate the Church to the state.

“The president forgets the Church has the divine power – which was not conferred by and is not dependent on the civil power – to preach the Gospel and all its consequences in society and even in politics,” the bishop said.

Azcona said the attempts of the government to “get into spaces strange to its competence” comes from an “anachronistic and evident immobility.”

Despite the polarization in both the Church and society in Brazil, the bishop said he isn’t anti-Francis or pro-Bolsonaro.

His only concern is with the Instrumentum Laboris itself, which he said “makes the evangelization of the world unfeasible, because it’s not able to incarnate Jesus Christ’s Gospel in today’s history, cultures, nations, and religions.”

“I do not consider myself to be an ‘opponent’ of the pope or of the synod. On the contrary, I think the synod is a singular opportunity in the history of the Church to deal with themes that never affected so much the whole humankind. It is, therefore, a singular occasion to announce the salvational gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” the bishop said.

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