ROME – German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, widely seen as a key opponent of Pope Francis, has penned a rare essay openly criticizing the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, saying the official preparatory document breaks with Catholic teaching.

According to Brandmüller’s essay, published June 27 on the Settimo Cielo blog of Italian journalist Sandro Magister, the synod’s recently-published preparatory document “burdens the Synod of Bishops, and finally the Pope, with a grave breach with the depositum fidei, which in its consequence means the self-destruction of the Church or the change of the Corpus Christi mysticum into a secular NGO with an ecological-social-psychological mandate.”

Published June 17, the document, known as the instrumentum laboris, will set the groundwork for the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, that will take place in Rome Oct. 6-27. Among other things, it opened a cautious door to the ordination of married “elders” as a possible solution to the region’s priest shortage.

RELATED: Married priests officially on the agenda during Amazon synod

In his essay, Brandmüller insisted that “the Instrumentum Laboris contradicts the binding teaching of the Church in decisive points and thus has to be qualified as heretical.”

“Inasmuch as even the fact of Divine Revelation is here being questioned, or misunderstood, one also now has to speak, additionally, of apostasy,” he said, voicing grievances over the document’s take on liturgy, spirituality and priestly celibacy.

Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, is among the four authors who in 2016 penned and published the dubia on Francis’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Only two of the authors, Brandmüller and American Cardinal Raymond Burke, are still living.

Given his conservative stance on theological and ecclesial matters, Brandmüller has often been touted as an opponent of Francis who sympathizes with the theology of the pontiff’s predecessor, retired Pope Benedict XVI.

However, Brandmüller, 90, recently found himself in hot water with the pope emeritus when a letter from Benedict was leaked last year in which the retired pontiff rebuked his fellow German prelate for criticizing his decision to resign from the papacy in 2013, indicating the move had thrown the Church into disarray.

RELATED: Benedict XVI hits back at critics in leaked letters

Since then, Brandmüller has been largely invisible; however, he broke his silence this week to voice his criticism and his concern over the Amazon synod.

In his essay, the German prelate took issue with the fact that a synod was being called to deal exclusively “with a region of the earth whose population is just half of that of Mexico City.”

“This is also a cause for suspicion concerning the true intentions which are to be implemented in a clandestine fashion,” he said, insisting that the topics on the table for discussion “have, at the most, marginally anything to do with the Gospels and the Church,” but rather constitute “an aggressive intrusion into the purely worldly affairs of the state and society of Brazil.”

“One asks oneself: what do ecology, economy, and politics have to do with the mandate and mission of the Church?” he asked.

Brandmüller questioned the emphasis placed on “natural religions” in the synod’s working document, saying certain healing and mythical practices and “forms of cults” are being promoted, as well as dialogue with spirits.

Ideas embraced in the synod document, he said, specifically citing paragraph 44 which makes reference to “Mother Earth” and “the cry of the earth and of the peoples,” are reminiscent of “a pantheistic idolatry of nature” and evoke ideas adopted by the Hitler Youth movement in Nazi Germany.

Speaking of the document’s call for “the inculturation of the Church,” Brandmüller said “The result is a natural religion with a Christian masquerade,” adding that “the notion of inculturation is here virtually being perverted.”

He also charged that the synod was organized in order to implement both “the abolishment of celibacy and the introduction of a female priesthood – starting first with female deacons,” citing lines from the instrumentum that speak of opening “new spaces” and creating “new ministries” in the region, also for women.

“John Paul II also stated with highest magisterial authority that it is not in the power of the Church to administer the Sacrament of Holy Orders to women. Indeed, in two thousand years, the Church has never administered the Sacrament of Holy Orders to a woman,” he said.

He said an increasing demand to ordain women is proof that the word “church” has become a purely “sociological term” for the document’s authors, “thus implicitly denying the sacramental-hierarchical character of the Church.”

Brandmüller issued his lament over the synod document’s take on women and celibacy despite the fact that Francis on multiple occasions in the past has indicated that the door to women’s priestly ordination is closed, citing John Paul II’s opposition as the Church’s firm and unwavering position.

More recently, both on his return flight from Macedonia and in an audience with the International Union of Superiors General in May, Francis said the answer to the question of whether to ordain women deacons is still unclear.

With positions still divided, he said no action can currently be taken and the commission he established in 2016 to study the topic will continue their research for the foreseeable future.

Brandmüller in his essay also argued that the concept of liturgy in the preparation document is skewed, allowing a “falsely understood inculturation” of the liturgy to deviate from the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

He closed his essay saying the synod document’s use of Christian words is “empty,” and that the Amazon synod itself “constitutes an attack on the foundations of the Faith, and in a way that has not heretofore been thought possible. Thus it must be rejected with all decisiveness.”

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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