Synod concludes leaving a lot on Pope Francis’ plate

synod concludes

Heading into the much-heralded Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, there was considerable speculation about whether the summit would, or would not, endorse married priests, the so-called viri probati, as a solution to the region’s chronic priest shortages.

Along the way, there was also a fair bit of chatter about ordaining women deacons as a way of recognizing the critical role of women in the Church, as well as creating a special “Amazon rite” of the Mass to recognize the dignity of indigenous cultures. All three ideas generated enthusiasm but also blowback, and they became emblematic of the summit’s importance.

If the measure of the outcome of an event is how it handles such issues, then one has to say of the Amazon synod that its main conclusions appear to leave an awful lot on Pope Francis’s plate.

In the final document of the synod released Saturday night Rome time, the 184 voting members, mostly bishops from the nine countries that contain a share of the Amazon rainforest, appeared to offer cautious approval to all three ideas – married priests, women deacons and an Amazon rite – but with an emphasis on “caution.”

Some of that was actually anti-climactic, since Francis himself drew the synod to a close-by insisting that it would be a mistake to focus on internal Church debates, saying the emphasis instead should be on the fate of the Amazon itself.

On married priests, the synod gave a thumbs-up, but with dissent. “We propose to establish criteria and provisions … to ordain priests suitable and esteemed men of the community, who have a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legally constituted and stable family, to sustain the life of the Christian community,” the final document said.

That codicil, however, passed with 128 votes in favour and 41 against, the most significant pocket of “no” votes in the text.

In addition, there was an important clause in the final line of the section: “In this regard, some were in favour of a more universal approach to the subject,” the document said.

Probably, that clause reflected an argument by some participants inside and outside the synod that a decision on a discipline of the entire Latin Church, meaning Catholicism apart from the 23 Eastern rite churches in communion with Rome, could not be made by a synod focused on just one region of the world.

Thus, a bishop opposed to the idea of an expansion of married priests could also have voted for the paragraph, thinking his position would prevail in a more universal gathering.

In general, dissenting votes on sections of the final document generally numbered in the single digits, and the next highest cluster of “no’s” was on section 30 – which, as it happens, was the section on women deacons. Continue reading

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