Cardinal Gerhard Mueller
1. On the method of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL)
Nobody would question the goodwill of all those involved in the preparation and implementation of the synod for the Church in the Amazon, nor their intention of doing everything possible to promote the Catholic Faith among the inhabitants of this vast region and its fascinating landscape.
The Amazon region is to serve for the Church and for the world “as a pars pro toto, as a paradigm, as a hope for the whole world.” (IL 37) The very wording of these terms of reference suggest the notion of an “integral” development of all of humankind at home on the one Earth, for which the Church now declares herself responsible. This notion appears again and again in the text of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL). The document is divided into three parts: 1) The Voice of the Amazon; 2) Integral Ecology: The Cry of the Earth and of the Poor; 3) A Prophetic Church in the Amazon: Challenges and Hope. These three parts are put forward following a pattern also applied in Liberation theology: Seeing the situation – judging in light of the Gospels – acting to achieve better living conditions.
2. Ambivalently defined terms and goals
As is so often the case when texts are produced as a team effort, by groups of people with a similar mindset contributing, there are many tiresome redundancies. If one were strictly to take out all the repetitions, the text could easily be cut down to half the length or less.
The main problem however is not quantitative, is not the excessive length. Rather, it is the fact that the key terms are not clearly defined and then excessively deployed: what is meant by a synodal path, by integral development, what is meant by a Samaritan, missionary, synodal, open Church? By a Church reaching out, the Church of the Poor, the Church of the Amazon, and other such terms? Is this Church something different from the People of God, or is she to be understood merely as the hierarchy of Pope and Bishops, or is she a part of it, or does she stand on the opposite side of the people? Is the term People of God to be understood sociologically or theologically? Or is she not, rather, the community of faithful, who, together with their shepherds, are on the pilgrimage unto eternal life? Is it the bishops who should hear the cry of the people, or is it God Who, just as He once did it with Moses during Israel's slavery in Egypt, now tells the successors of the Apostles to lead the faithful out of sin and apart from the godlessness of secularist naturalism and immanentism unto his salvation in God's Word and in the Sacraments of the Church?
3. Upside-down Hermeneutics
Has the Church of Christ been put by her Founder, as though she was some kind of putty, into the hands of bishops and popes, so they may now – illuminated by the Holy Spirit – rebuild her, into an updated instrument with secular goals, too?
The structure of the text presents a radical U-turn from the hermeneutics of Catholic theology. The relationship between Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition on the one hand, and the Church's Magisterium on the other, has been classically determined in such a way that Revelation is fully contained in Holy Scripture and Tradition, while it is the task of the Magisterium – united with the sense of the Faith of the whole People of God – to make authentic and infallible interpretations. Thus, Holy Scripture and Tradition are constitutive principles of knowledge for the Catholic Profession of Faith and its theological-academic reflection. The Magisterium, on the other hand, is merely active in an interpretative and regulative manner (Dei Verbum 8-10; 24).
In the case of the IL, however, the very opposite is the case. The whole line of thought revolves, in self-referential and circular ways, around the latest documents of Pope Francis' Magisterium, furnished with a few references to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Only little is quoted of Holy Scripture, and the Church Fathers barely at all, and then only in an illustrative manner, for the sake of supporting pre-formed convictions. Perhaps one wishes thereby to show a special loyalty to the Pope, or one thus believes oneself to be able to avoid the challenges of theological work when one constantly refers back to his well-known and often repeated keywords, which the authors call – in a pretty sloppy manner – “his mantra” (IL 25). This flattery is then being carried to its extreme when the authors also add – after declaring that “the active subjects of inculturation are the indigenous peoples themselves” (IL 122) – the following odd expression: “As Pope Francis has affirmed, ‘Grace supposes culture.’” As if he himself had discovered this axiom – which is of course a fundamental axiom of the Catholic Church herself. In the original, it is Grace which presupposes Nature, just as Faith presupposes Reason (see Thomas Aquinas, S. th. I q.1 a.8).
Next to the confusing of the roles of Magisterium on the one side and of Holy Scripture on the other, the IL even goes so far as to claim that there are new sources of Revelation. IL 19 states: “Furthermore, we can say that the Amazon – or another indigenous or communal territory – is not only an ubi or a where (a geographical space), but also a quid or a what, a place of meaning for faith or the experience of God in history. Thus, territory is a theological place where faith is lived, and also a particular source of God’s revelation: epiphanic places where the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifest, a life and wisdom that speaks of God.” If here a certain territory is being declared to be a “particular source of God's Revelation,” then one has to state that this is a false teaching, inasmuch as for 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition are the only sources of Revelation and that no further Revelation can be added in the course of history. As Dei Verbum states, “we now await no further new public revelation” (4). Holy Scripture and Tradition are the only sources of Revelation, as Dei Verbum (7) explains: “This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face.” “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.” (Dei Verbum 10).
Besides these striking statements and references, the organization Rete Ecclesiale Panamazzonica (REPAM) – which has been tasked with the preparation of the IL and which was founded for that very reason in 2014 – as well as their authors of the so-called Theologia india [Indian Theology] mostly quote themselves.
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It is a closed group of absolutely like-minded people, as can easily be gleaned from the list of participants at pre-synodal meetings in Washington and Rome, and it includes a disproportionately large number of mostly German-speaking Europeans.
This group is immune to serious objections, because such objections could only be based on monolithic doctrinalism and dogmatism, or ritualism (IL 38; 110; 138), as well as on clericalism incapable of dialogue (IL 110), and on the rigid way of thinking of the pharisees and on the pride of reason of the scribes. To argue with such people would just be a loss of time and a wasted effort.
Not all of them have direct experience with South America, and are only invited because they toe the official line and determine the agenda at the synodal process of the German bishops’ conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics currently underway (i.e. abolishing celibacy, [ordaining] women to the priesthood and promoting them to key positions of power so as to tackle clericalism and fundamentalism, conforming Catholic sexual morality to gender ideology and an appreciation for homosexual practices) that is simultaneously taking place.
I myself have been active in the pastoral and theological field in Peru and other countries for 15 consecutive years, always for two to three months on end. It was mainly in South American parishes and seminaries, and thus I do not now judge with a purely Eurocentric perspective, as some would like to tell me in a reproachful manner.
Every Catholic will agree with one important intention of the IL, namely that the peoples of the Amazon may not remain the object of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the object of forces solely dedicated to profit and power at the expense of the happiness and dignity of other people. It is clear in Church, society, and state that the people who are living there – especially our Catholic brothers and sisters – are equal and free agents in their lives and work, their Faith and their morality, and this in our common responsibility before God. But how can this be achieved?
4. The Point of Departure is God's Revelation in Christ Jesus
Without doubt, the proclamation of the Gospel is a dialogue which corresponds to the Word (=Logos) of God addressed to us - as well as our response to it by the free gift of obedience to the Faith (cf. Dei Verbum 5). Because this mission comes from Christ the God-Man and because He passed His Mission on from the Father onto His Apostles, the seeming tensions between a dogmatic approach “from above” versus a pedagogical-pastoral approach “from below” are rendered pointless, unless one were to reject the “divine-human-principle of pastoral ministry” (Franz Xaver Arnold).