Addressing the question of ecological conversion, the bishop argued that "the need for repentance for the forgiveness of sins is the fundamental challenge that the Church has to face in the Amazon. Without this absolute priority of the being and action of the Church there is no future for the Amazon, because we thus forget the presence of the Kingdom of God in the world."
"In the absence of the repentance that 'makes exist that which does not exist' for the generation of the new Amazonian man, the document does not experience the hunger, the thirst for the Holy Spirit."
According to the bishop "the document, forgetting the New Pentecost encouraged by Pope Saint John XXIII in the preparatory prayer for the Council, sets aside the nucleus of the mission in the Amazon. Is this mission in the Amazon like a land and water mission? Or is it the missionary dimension which, as the Church in the Amazon, is called and sent out to the world? Let us be guided by the inspired teaching of Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium."
"What the Holy Father proposes is evangelization and therefore an Amazon very different from a set of tasks carried out, projects, pastoral plans, inculturation, ecology."
"Why doesn't the document cry out this truth, the only truth that can save the Amazon?" he asked.
Azcona said that "the ordination of "viri probati" is going to be useless," since "it's placing a piece of new cloth on an old fabric. The tear is bigger!"
On the other hand, he observed, "the clergy in the Amazon need, as does the entire Church, repentance, conversion, the faith that saves in the strict sense. Experience offers this evidence. The meaning of the priestly ministry and specifically in the Amazon, is lost or is dead in the lives or in the authentic pastoral conversion of priests."
"Why ordain viri probati within a priesthood in crisis?" he asked
"The perfect and perpetual continence of the Kingdom of Heaven will continue being, a sign of encouragement of pastoral charity and the original source of spiritual fruitfulness- within the Amazon," he said.
"We may ask: Does this attitude of prayer exist for the gift of celibacy in the priests of the Amazon? "Does the entire Church pray that this sublime gift be poured out on the whole Body of Christ? The facts answer: 'No'!'"
"And also, and principally, deciding this issue is something completely inopportune in a context in which the current trends of large groups of Catholics, the so-called conservatives, are questioning the Magisterium of the Church, specifically in the Supreme Pontiff himself. Some are publicly calling him a heretic demanding his immediate resignation. Others are demanding his resignation for the lack of consistency on the issue of pedophilia in the Church! Let's not entertain a discussion on the legitimacy of these questions. What is certain is than an affirmative response would open up the risk of a division, of a real schism in the Church."
He thus stressed that "it's not about the victory of the so called 'conservatives' or the 'progressives.' It's about what is greatest in the Church: charity. In the face of charity, any concept or sociological label ought to pale."
"Recognizing that the venerable institution of priestly celibacy belongs to the disciplinary area of the Church and therefore subject to changes, I considerate it disadvantageous, even dangerous at this time for ecclesial unity, to open up the possibility that the document is asking for," Azcona said.
"It's not an exclusively indigenous ministry problem. It's a situation of the widespread shortage of priests in the Church. The same reasons that can be invoked for this recognition asked for by the document are the same ones that can be applied to the entire Church, or to much of it."
According to the bishop, "the problem is not just the lack of enough priests, but the examination, discernment of this great shortage for a realistic solution. The fundamental root of this shortage of vocations in the Church and also in the Amazon, including the evangelized indigenous peoples, is due to an alarming lack of faith or the absence of faith that works in practice through love and necessarily in history and society."
Thus, he explained, "even though it's a disciplinary issue, this becomes an ethical imperative beginning with the absolute instruction: Christ died for the unenlightened brother; your freedom is not something absolute; it is against Christ they sin, wounding the conscience of the brother; the only absolute is love; this love is that of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit"
"Is this the love of the Church in the Amazon? Is this the love of God that sufficiently pervades the criteria for pastoral care, the ecclesial criteria, the praxis as the supreme reality or is it gnosis or Pelagius which commands the ship of the Church in the Amazon?"
"This danger of schism is not imaginary! Nor in the Amazon!" Azcona concluded.
Azcona, 79, is a native of Pamplona, Spain. He was appointed a missionary bishop in the Amazon in 1987, and retired from his post in 2016.
This interview was first published by ACI Digital, CNA's Portugese-language sister agency. It has been adapted and translated by CNA.