In Rome, outside voices offer contrasting opposition to Amazon synod

shutterstock 1175584342 1 Vatican at sunset. Via Shutterstock.

In Rome this week, two groups who say their voices are not often heard by Church leaders held events to speak out against aspects of the Amazon synod with which they disagree, with both groups offering dramatic assessments about the meaning and significance of the synod of bishops.

Voice of the Family, a network of ultra-conservative groups, held a roundtable Oct. 4 to express their opposition to this month's meeting of synod of bishops on the Pan-Amazonian region, which speakers said promotes paganism. Over the course of the three-hour event, speakers critiqued the preparatory document for the synod, which they said defer to pagan elements of indigenous religions.

The previous day, the organization Voices of Faith hosted a much different event in Rome. Titled "And You Sister... What Do You Say?" that meeting saw eight religious sisters and nuns present their vision of gender equality and the future of the Church, including calling for women religious to be allowed to cast votes on the final document of the Amazon synod.

Speakers Oct. 3 included American Sr. Simone Campbell, a member of the "Nuns on the Bus" tour, and German Doris Wagner, a former religious sister and member of Familia spiritualis Opus (FSO), informally known as "Das Werk."

A group of Benedictine nuns from Fahr Monastery near Basel, Switzerland, led by their Prioress Irene Gassmann, traveled to Rome by bus for the event. The nuns, part of the women's rights activist group "Kirche mit*," and wore orange capes which said "votes for Catholic women."

Voices of Faith created the #votesforCatholicwomen initiative in 2016, in response to what they see as the injustice of women religious taking part in the synod as consultors and auditors, but being unable to vote on the final resolutions and documents.

They note that, in the past few meetings of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, a small number of non-ordained religious brothers have been allowed to vote in an exception to synodal norms that provide that only ordained clerics may vote on the assembly's final document.

In a press conference Oct. 1, Voices of Faith, together with the Women's Ordination Conference, a group which advocates for the priestly ordination of women in opposition to established Church teaching, said they wanted women to have a "deliberative status" in the synod, not only a consultative role. 

While the synod fathers vote on the contents of a final document summarizing the sessions and offering recommendations, the synod of bishops is canonically a consultative body and has no deliberative power of its own.

Sr. Simone Campbell said Oct. 1 that she thinks the synod "should be a communal moment of making change in our Church."

"I'm here because my sisters who are engaged in the Amazon need to be engaged in the Amazon synod in a fuller way," she said.

Asked about "ministerial roles" for women in the Church, Campbell said there is a need for "recognition of the fact that [religious sisters] are serving in these very important ministries, but not deserving of being a voting member of the synod."

"I don't hold out a lot of hope that the synod fathers will understand the role of ministerial mothers," she added.

The Women's Ordination Conference head, Kate McElwee, said her group will organize at least two protests during the synod's sessions, which run from Oct. 6-27.

On Oct. 4, the Voice of the Family network took an opposite view of the role of women in the synodal process, and discussed the possibility that the Amazon synod will attempt to approve women's ordination to the diaconate, as well as criticizing what they termed "heresies" in the assembly's working document.

During the three-hour roundtable Oct. 4, titled "Our Church: Reformed or Deformed?" participants aired concerns about the Amazon synod's Instrumentum laboris, which participants said as promoted pagan "Amazon religions" and "indigenous theology," while seeking to undermine the discipline of priestly celibacy, and open a way for the creation of women deacons.

Voice of the Family is a network of organizations which formed before the synod of bishops' meeting on the family in 2014. The lay initiative publishes documents and organizes conferences on issues related to life and the family. 

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The roundtable's participants said the synod's consequences could be profound.

Participant Roberto Dei Mattei accused anyone who has approved of the Amazon synod's Instrumentum laboris "of polytheism, or polydemonism." 

Michael Matt, of the Remnant website, said that if the synod were to approve proposals made in the working document it would be "the biggest event in the history of the world with the exception of the crucifixion of Christ."

In fact, a synod does not have deliberative power in the Church, and is only able to make recommendations to the pope, who is free to respond to them as he wishes.

Nevertheless, John Henry Westen, Editor-in-Chief of Lifesitenews, said that the Amazon synod "is expected to be the most severe calamity to the faith the Church has ever known."  

Westen did not indicate who expects that outcome.

Other roundtable participants included Michael Voris of the Church Militant website, Italian journalist Marco Tosatti, and writer Taylor Marshall.

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Speakers at the event said that, despite their concerns, they do not consider leaving the Church, but continue to pray for the protection of the papacy and for Pope Francis' conversion. Matt suggested putting "human pressure on the Vatican," but said the strategy as Christians should be "charity."

"The strategy is Christian charity," he said. "Maybe even we're wrong with how we see things."

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