ROME – At a press conference on the summit of bishops focusing on the Pan-Amazonian people and region set for October 2019, Vatican officials did not close the door to the possibility of opening up official ministries to women and married men.
“We don’t want to preclude anything,” said Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops at the conference June 8, though adding that “the Church is currently in its classical position,” concerning women’s and married men’s ordination.
The comments were made during the presentation of the preparatory document for the summit of bishops next year focusing on the Pan-Amazon region and its peoples, called “Amazonia: New paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”
While the document makes no direct mention of the viri probati, meaning married priests, it does focus on the need for a “Church with an Amazonian face” that presents new perspectives for the evangelization of Amazonian people and especially indigenous people, with special attention to the need to protect and care for the environment.
The document points to “an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of ‘a Church with an Amazonian face and a Church with a native face’,” and to find the “contents, methods, and attitudes” necessary to address its challenges.
A priority, the texts says, is that of proposing “new ministries and services for the different pastoral agents, ones which correspond to activities and responsibilities within the community. 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.”
Quoting Pope Francis, Baldisseri underlined “the need to allow space for women in the Church, at all levels,” though he made clear that that space falls within “the official doctrine and discipline of the Church.”
The cardinal also acknowledged that “the Church is not static, it has a two-thousand-year history, and there’s always movement.”
In the context of married priests, Baldisseri said that the scope should not be limited to viri probati, which he said can be interpreted in many ways, and “there can also be other ministries” that could be created ad hoc.
The document also points to a “hierarchical list of the Amazonia’s urgent needs” and states that the new paths emerging from the synod will impact “ministries, liturgy, and theology.” Regarding theology, the document mentions “Indian theology,” which takes into the account the place where Catholicism is set and proposes a “localization” of theology.
Baldisseri confirmed that representatives from the Pan-Amazonian region will be present during some of the bishops’ meetings at the summit.
Part of the working material for the synod next year — called the “Instrumentum Laboris” — will include the answers to a questionnaire sent to priests working in the region, which will be sent to bishops by June 2019.
The questions range from inquiries regarding the environment, ecology and sustainability to issues concerning marginalization and evangelization. The questionnaire also asks how to “recognize and value” women in “new paths,” given their importance in the communities.
Questions regarding women and married men having access to the priesthood have been a central part of the debate concerning the Pan-Amazonian synod of bishops, ever since the long-time proponent of married priesthood, the Austro-Brazilian Bishop Erwin Kräutler, was brought on board the pre-synod council by Pope Francis.
Kräutler has also been credited with co-authoring the pope’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, on the care of the environment and creation, which has a strong imprint on the preparatory document.
The Pan-Amazonian population, comprised of about three million indigenous people, representing about 390 different peoples and nationalities, are “are the custodians of the rainforest and its resources,” the document states, which are “being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory.”
“The dominant culture of consumerism and waste turns the planet into one giant landfill. The Pope denounces this model of development as faceless, suffocating, and motherless, and as obsessed only with material goods and the idols of money and power. New ideological colonialisms hidden under the myth of progress are being imposed, thereby destroying specific cultural identities,” the text reads.
“Pope Francis thus appeals for the defense of cultures and for the re-appropriation of a heritage permeated by ancestral wisdom,” it continues.
The document also suggests that Western cultures have much to learn from the Amazonian people’s harmonious relationship with the environment and states that “it is necessary to overcome myopia, nearsightedness, and short-term solutions,” in favor of a global perspective in developing a sproject that helps support the Amazonian environment and its people.
Finally, the text offers evangelization approaches, which take into account the diversity and history of the Pan-Amazonian people. The “social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”
The document proposes more native priests and an active work of missionaries to incorporate, acknowledge and understand the native people’s worldview.