The highly anticipated and now much discussed post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia struck me as mostly workmanlike. That’s not to dismiss the importance of the text, or to overlook significant passages. Nor is to suggest that I disagree strongly with anything much that is actually in the text, which I see as a sort of strategic (if sincere) pause in a now wearying series of Synods and ecclesial skirmishes.
I confess I found it curious that a document so focused on what is sacred in creation and so cosmic about the Catholic Faith not only failed to draw upon a stunning Christological passage such as Colossians 1:15-20, but hardly quotes or alludes to Scripture at all (I count three short quotes in the 16,000 word document). And yet there are copious amounts of poetry, and a quote: “Only poetry, with its humble voice, will be able to save this world.” I love great poetry as much or more than most, but even I question such poetic overreach.
In many ways, I’ve been more intrigued by responses to Querida Amazonia than I have been by the document itself.
Of course, it is not the absence of Scripture that caught the attention of most readers, but the absence of open support for relaxation on the Latin rite disciplines regarding married men being ordained priests. Writing in The Guardian, Catherine Pepinster, former editor of The Tablet, expressed her clear frustration, saying that “Francis dealt the liberals a blow,” having “turned down the opportunity to recommend married priests as the solution to a shortage of priests in the Amazon region – despite the wishes of Amazon bishops. Those bishops had also called for the church to let women serve within the clergy, but Francis offered no such change.” In doing so, she concludes, “The man from the ends of the Earth has proved to be a disruptive figure in ways that no one expected.”
Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., insisted that he was disappointed but not surprised by the exhortation, correctly noting (in my estimation), “Francis did not say yes to married priests, but neither did he really say no.” But he later lets out some disgruntled progressivism when he writes, “His arguments against women deacons were disappointing and patriarchal. … He calls for more recognition of women’s roles in the church — and I agree — but why not go all the way and ordain women?” The answer to that questions, says Reese, is found in the “synodal process”, and he finds solace in thinking Francis has eschewed the methods of “previous popes” who said, “My way or the highway.”
But columnist Jamie L. Manson, also writing in the National Catholic Reporter, is having none of it, flatly stating: “Perhaps no one was less surprised last week than I was when Pope Francis’ Querida Amazonia showed no openness to a female diaconate, and instead was laden with the language of gender complementarity in its discussion of women.” She goes on to suggest that while the Holy Spirit had spoken clearly at the Amazonian synod, the men involved were not listening closely enough. She quotes Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami as remarking, “The synod is about the action of the Holy Spirit and discernment of the Holy Spirit. And if there is no Holy Spirit, there is no discernment.” Manson then says, with obvious irritation:
But I was at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, and it seemed to me and many others who were listening that the Holy Spirit was speaking loudly and clearly, particularly on the issue of empowering women.
Massimo Faggioli, who often flirts with a hermeneutic of discontinuity, is equally agitated, brusquely condemning the document for committing that most (ahem) egregious sin: upholding “more a pre-conciliar than conciliar or post-conciliar theology of the ordained ministry” and putting, as did John Paul II, “great emphasis on what the laity can do works to preserve the clerical system just as it is.” It is apparent that Faggioli views the exhortation as a sort of betrayal, concluding, “The moment is a crossroads for the Francis pontificate….”