One of the Catholic Church’s great virtues is that she’s always gloriously out of step with modern fashion. Usually she’s a few centuries ahead of the curve: Pope Paul III forbade Spanish and Portuguese colonists from enslaving the indigenous peoples of South America way back in 1537.
Pope Francis, however, tends to go the other way. He adopts all sorts of fashionable causes, but only once they’ve gone out of fashion.
For instance, I wasn’t fully sentient when “Save the Rainforest” was the cause du jour. If my knowledge of “South Park” serves me, that fad peaked in 1999. Yet the Vatican is only just now getting around to holding a Synod on the Amazon, which concluded Oct. 27.
Indeed, the instrumentum laboris (or working document) was full of references to the “Amazonian cosmovision” and “faith in the God Father-Mother Creator.” It would delight the sort of spiritual-not-religious yummy mummies who spend their early afternoons wearing yoga pants and drinking chardonnay. After all, it was they who wanted so badly to save the rainforest, before it became more urgent to save the whales, and then Tibet, and then the ice caps, and then the whales again. Alas for the Holy Father, I think most of them have now moved on to bigger and better causes, like forcing nuns to buy condoms.
Nevertheless, the geriatric bishops attending the synod appear to be having a grand old time. As part of the opening ceremony, a female shaman (shamaness?) conducted a ritual oblation to “Pachamama,” the earth-goddess of Amazonian paganism. Pope Francis looked on smiling.
There have already been a few awkward moments, where Catholic clerics who romanticize the Amazon as a vast tropical utopia populated by noble savages suddenly walk face-first into a much darker reality. When a journalist asked Pedro Cardinal Barreto, S.J., about the practice of infanticide, the Jesuit dismissed any claim that such atrocities take place in the Amazon. He was quickly corrected by Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who also happened to be briefing the press. Yes, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz: some tribes do still wantonly slaughter newborns. (Who knew Planned Parenthood had locations in South America?)
The synod purports to address the shortage of priests in the Amazon. And yet that problem is far from being unique to the region. In 2016, the seminary serving the Diocese of Munich, Germany received one new priest-in-training. So, why the Amazon? And why now?
Many conservatives suspect Pope Francis’s allies, emboldened by the pontiff’s habit of playfully testing the bounds of orthodoxy, will use the Amazon synod as a Trojan horse to sneak all sorts of unwanted “reforms” into the Church, particularly married priests and female ordination. It’s not exactly reassuring that the head of the synod, Cláudio Cardinal Hummes, is notorious for his theological liberalism — not to mention his longstanding friendships with left-wing terrorists back home in Brazil. (Cardinal Hummes also arranged the lovely welcome for Pachamama in the Vatican gardens.)
True to form, Hummes confirmed that the synodal fathers would consider lifting the ban on married priests before the synod even began. During last week’s proceedings, another progressive prelate, Erwin Cardinal Kräutler explained that the indigenous peoples of the Amazon “don’t understand celibacy” — which, to my mind, is a perfect example of the tyranny of low expectations.
Prelates serving in the Amazon itself were rightly offended by the suggestion that native peoples are sexually incontinent. Bishop José Luis Azcona, who for years has braved death threats for denouncing the rights of the indigenous people, said that “it’s not the indigenous culture that finds insurmountable difficulties in understanding celibacy.”
Rather, it’s that there was not a real inculturation of the Gospel. For many reasons, there has been a transmission of the faith that was not transformed into culture — a faith that was not completely received, not thought out completely, not lived faithfully.
There you have it, folks. Ask a Catholic from the Amazon, and they’ll tell you just how to solve the crisis of faith. They don’t need married priests: they need missionary priests. They don’t need the Church to draw closer to their native culture: they need the culture to become more Christian. They don’t need prelates who pay homage to pagan idols. No, they need bishops who proclaim the truth of the Gospel: there is one God, the Father Almighty, and one Lord, Jesus Christ.
A Catholic Church that’s actually Catholic. It’s a novel idea, to be sure. But it just might work, by Jove — or should I say, by Pachamama?
Michael Warren Davis is the editor in chief of Crisis Magazine.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.