The Amazon synod has begun at the Vatican, with controversy from the very first moment.
The synod, which aims to discuss the spiritual and pastoral needs of the Amazon region, began with a tree-planting ceremony on Friday. But the ceremony was accompanied by a ritual involving symbols whose meaning was unclear: some saw them as representing the Virgin Mary, others suggested they were pagan or – in the words of one bishop – represented “fertility”.
What churchmen said
Pope Francis called for the synod fathers to show “daring prudence”, telling them: “If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, formerly the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, told Il Foglio that the synod’s working document emphasised ecology over salvation. “We are justified through faith, hope, and love, not through environmental activism,” he said.
“Of course, taking care of creation is important: after all, we live in a garden willed by God. But this is not the decisive point. What is is the fact that for us God is more important. Jesus gave his life for the salvation of men, not of the planet.”
What commentators said
In the New York Times, Jason Horowitz wrote that the synod could help the Pope to change the Church. “While liberal critics argue he has not moved fast enough to reform the Church,” he wrote, “his supporters note that he is at the least willing to talk about and reconsider church policy on married priests, and its stance toward homosexuality and celibacy.”
At the Catholic Thing, Fr Thomas Weinandy said that, over the last few years, Church teaching on “moral and sacramental absolutes” has been undermined, and the Amazon synod seems likely to accelerate the process. The Church is split between those who are loyal to the papacy, but critical of the Pope’s decisions, and those who “enthusiastically support Francis precisely because he allows and fosters their ambiguous teaching”.
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