ROME – Once again the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon is pondering the idea of married priests, with a Vatican news bulletin Tuesday indicating that someone during the morning session raised the possibility of a “faculty to dispense from celibacy in order to be able to ordained married men as ‘ministers,’ under the supervision of a responsible priest.”
In keeping with its custom, the Vatican provides a daily list of who spoke during the synod and a synthesis of the content, but it does not identify which speakers made specific points.
“Facing difficult situations that are lived in the Amazon, important responses arrive from the Eucharist, through which the grace of God passes,” Tuesday’s synthesis says, attempting to summarize the morning’s discussion.
Those responses to difficult situations, it said, also come “from a diffuse concept of ministry, beginning with women, who are the unquestioned protagonists when it’s a question of transmitting a radical sense of life.”
“Perhaps it’s worth asking if it’s not time to rethink ministry,” the synthesis said. “Many communities, in fact, have difficulty celebrating the Eucharist because of a lack of priests; it was suggested, therefore, that the criteria for selecting and preparing authorized ministers to celebrate the sacrament be changed, so that it’s not available only to a few.”
Questioned during an Oct. 15 press conference about how to provide sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, to communities that only celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and not Mass since there are no priests to celebrate it, Bishop Eugenio Coter, Apostolic Vicar of Pando in Bolivia, said the question is one of the “sacramentality” of the Church involving more than access to the Eucharist, but other sacraments such as Confession and the Anointing of the Sick.
The topic “is developing every day,” including possible solutions, he said, adding that the suggestions being made, including married priests and a possible temporary form of ordination, “need to be deepened.”
Ministry in rural Amazonian areas includes many functions such as music, readings, those who serve and those who celebrate, he said, adding that “to have someone with the faculty of being able consecrate is an idea that is being studied and reflected on.”
A key point of consideration, Coter said, is how to form these people, “because when the communities are far away, there is a very high financial cost in reaching them. Hypothesis are being made based on many points, including the doctrine of the Church, he said, “which allows us to respond” to the needs of the people.
Bishop Rafael Alfonso Escudero López-Brea of Moyobamba, Peru also spoke during Tuesday’s press conference, stressing the importance of evangelizing in the Amazon.
In his speech inside the synod hall, he reportedly argued against the proposal for married priests, saying that to ordain elders in the community to distribute sacraments but without having the ability to teach or govern would turn them into mere “functionaries.”
According to Gloria.tv, Escudero apparently argued that such functionaries would not be pastors and insisted that there is no “lack of vocations” in dioceses and religious communities who adhere to Catholic doctrine.
However, while stressing the importance of both evangelizing and having a Church with “an Amazonian face,” composed of priests, bishops and religious from the Amazon instead of the west, Escudero did not touch on the issue of celibacy during Tuesday’s briefing.
Other key themes that emerged in the past few synod sessions were ecumenism, the “martyrdom” of those who have died working in or defending the Amazon, and a proposal to create a local bishops’ conference for the Amazon.
According to the Vatican bulletin, the entity would be coordinated by the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), and would be integrated into the continent-wide bishops’ conference, the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America (CELAM).
Not only would the new body help implement conclusions of the Amazon synod, but it would also work in defending the rights of indigenous communities, forming pastoral agents and creating Amazonian seminaries as well as dealing with common local issues such as land exploitation, drug and human trafficking, and prostitution.
Tuesday’s synthesis also highlighted martyrs of the Amazon such as Monsignor Alejandro Labaka, Capuchin tertiary Inés Arango, or Sister Dorothy Stang, “who’ve given their lives in the name of the cause of the defenseless Amazonian people and to defend the territory.”
The Amazon, it said, “is like a violated woman whose cries need to be heard…because only in this way can evangelization be reawakened. Effective proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, happens only in contact with the pain of the world that waits to be redeemed by the love of Christ, thanks to a theology of life.”
Missionary work in the Amazon “must be better supported,” the synthesis said. Because of this, participants suggested creating a special financial fund with both a national and international identity in order “to reinforce the mission in the region,” with specific attention to transportation and the formation of missionaries.
Ecumenism was also flagged as an obligatory task for missionary activity in the area, “because a missionary Church is also an ecumenical Church,” the synthesis said, adding that this challenge “also regards the Amazon.”
“Far from any type of proselytism or intra-Christian colonialism, Christian evangelization is a free invitation addressed to free people to enter into communication and to start a vivifying dialogue. A careful evangelization, therefore, is the proof of a credible ecumenism,” it said.
The importance of music was also underlined as “a common language understood by all,” and which can play a key role in passing on the faith.
“That can’t mean rejecting doctrine,” the synthesis said, echoing synod participants, “but it has to be understood by a human sensibility. In that way the Good News will be attractive to all, moving toward a rebirth of the sacred that’s being lived today even in the most savage zones of the Amazon.”
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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