Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 15:48 pm
For the next two months, most of the ink spilled by Catholic journalists will be dedicated to the Amazon, and especially the three-week Rome meeting of bishops in October that will discuss the region. But while the Amazon synod of bishops holds popular attention, some astute Church-watchers wll be more attentive to the emerging controversy surrounding a different synod, to be held in Germany.
The pan-Amazonian synod has become the latest battleground in the long series of internecine conflicts that have plagued the Church in recent years. Conservative figures have decried the synod’s preparatory documents as pantheistic heterodoxy, while progressive Churchmen have cast the meeting as the occasion of some kind of new beginning for the Church, after which, at least one bishop has said, “nothing will be the same.”
At issue, at least theoretically, are two loaded topics in the Church’s life: the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood, and the quagmire surrounding questions of “inculturation,” which ask how the Gospel can be expressed in diverse cultural settings.
The topic of ordaining married men is on the table because the remoteness of some Amazon villages, which almost never see a priest, has led to the suggestion that ordained “viri probati,” older, married men, could make it possible for more Catholics to have access to the sacramental life.
But some bishops are concerned that considering the possibility of married priests in the Amazon region, where priests are few, will lead to widespread adoption of the practice, and the loss of the custom of clerical celibacy. There is also concern that a broadly applied dispensation from the obligation of priestly celibacy will stir up the simmering debate over ordaining women to the diaconate, and even the officially settled argument over ordaining women as priests.
While most proponents of the possibility say their sights are fixed only on the problems of Amazonia, critics are skeptical. Among advocacy groups, intellectuals, and even a few bishops, heated rhetoric has begun to fly.
As the synod grows closer, the rhetoric will grow only more intense, from all corners of the Church.
Rome will host an entire cottage industry of pundits in the weeks preceding the synod, and “experts,” from both the left and the right, will hold symposia and conferences, trying to make the case that the synod matters, that their opponents are wrong and that, whatever their viewpoint, it is the only legitimately Catholic perspective on the matters at hand.