Pope will have last word (National Catholic Reporter)
If the Amazon synod follows the format of the three previous synods of Francis’ papacy, each week will start with general sessions in the Vatican’s synod hall. Later in the week, the prelates will break into small groups, divided by working language, for more manageable discussions.
Each small group will likely create some sort of discussion document on the week’s material, in hopes of leading to a final document from the synod, the text of which will be considered in the gathering’s final general sessions before the synod’s official closing Mass on Oct. 27.
But although the gathering’s final document will probably be published immediately after it is approved on Oct. 25 or Oct. 26, it is not likely to be the last word on the subject. As he has after the previous synods held during his papacy, Francis is expected to then adopt the synod’s final text into his own document, known as an apostolic exhortation.
After the 2014 and 2015 family synods, for example, the pope wrote 2016’s Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love.”) After the 2018 youth synod, he wrote 2019’s Christus Vivit (“Christ is alive.”)
López, who is originally from Mexico but now lives in Ecuador, stressed that at the end of the synod process it will be the pope who decides how matters are resolved.
Pope Francis meets with members of the preparatory council for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon region at the Vatican in this photo dated April 12-13 and released by the Vatican April 14. (CNS/Vatican Media)
“People need to know that the synod as a structure is a body that serves the pope,” said López. “It’s not a democratic space. It’s not a parliament in which there will be only voting procedures.”
“At the end of the day, the pope is the one making the call on what he thinks is really crucial and most relevant in light of his magisterium,” he said.
“People need to know this is an ongoing discernment,” said López. “They cannot attack or reject the synod because of what’s written in the instrumentum laboris.”
“This will be done in a very respectful way,” he said. “And it is for the pope to have the final say. This is a discerning body, at the service of the pope.”
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]
Despite rumours of some disaffection for the role of Pope Francis as Head of the Roman Catholic Church around the world, the status of the ‘Magisterium’ ensures that his word is final on matters of how the Catholic Faith is taught, lived out and pastorally administered in the various national and local branches of the Church.
However, there is one aspect of this particular Pope’s reign that may be somewhat different from that of most of his predecessors. Having worked extensively among the poor and disadvantaged of the Church in Argentina, he is acutely aware of what is needed to prosper and nourish the faith and lives of those whose existence is all too often threatened by the exigencies of daily life and work that militate against the health and well-being of the poorest of the poor. His adoption of the name of Saint Francis of Assisi was no mere accident. His reign as Pope so far has exhibitied all the hallmarks of Franciscan concern and care for the poor and disadvantaged.
In strong contrast with the Cardinal Princes of the Church in more prosperous surroundings – including those of the Vatican – Pope Francis is determined, in this instance, to promote the cause of the Church and people of the Amazon Basin, that region of South America that is most threatened, today, by the prospect of de-afforestation – where the natural habitat of both people and flora and fauna are daily being put at risk by forest fires, often set for the explicit purpose of opening up fresh land for the purposes of agricultural and industry, that mostly bring profits to rich landowners at the expense of the quality of life for the native people, besides being counter-productive for the prospect of climate sustainability.
Regarding the spiritual nourishment of his flock in places of deprivation – like that in the Amazon Basin – Francis is prepared to listen to the voice of the local people, a capacity of pastoral caring that is not always obvious in Church government. It has become obvious that there is a scarcity of men available in the area to minister to the sacramental needs of the local congregations. This raises the possibility of using other resources to fill the gap. The most obvious is that of the availability of local married men who may be willing to offer themselves for the priestly ministry that is needed if the Church is to survive in the vast areas of pastoral need. This matter has been raised by the local people – as a way of meeting the specific circumstances prevailing in the Amazon Basin.
Those in the Roman Catholic hierarchy who are reluctant to change traditional ways of providing ministry and pastoral care – mainly through the predominance of the celibate male priesthood – are already girding up their loins in opposition to the possibility of fundamental change on this sensitive issue. However, they cannot have it both ways. Either the Pope has authority to bring about what is obviously necessary to alter the tradition of the Church – or he does not! The question is; will their loyalty to Papal Infallibility be enough to oversome their own prejudice – on a matter that does not threaten the credal integrity of the Gospel?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand