The Amazon Synod: The Elephant in the Room


On Oct. 26, the Catholic Church concluded the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region to discuss pressing issues facing the region. A synod is a collection of bishops, in this instance 181, that are assembled to discuss problems facing the Church. The Amazon is facing many hardships, including a shortage of priests, deforestation and extractivism. The church, rightfully so, is exploring options to alleviate these problems with a special emphasis on the shortage of priests. However, the elephant in the room with this synod is that it is happening in the background of indigenous spiritual practices, languages and theologies that are incompatible with Christian beliefs. As reported by the Vatican News Network, the synod itself started with a dance by indigenous shaman to pay homage to a fertility god. Intercultural dialogue and ecumenism are good things; but the explicit use of folk religion as a basis of knowledge for revelation and the use of condemned theological frameworks is antithetical to Church teaching and is not being discussed.

Liberation and ecological theology seem to be the guiding force behind the working document used by the bishops. The working document discusses ‘ecological conversion,’ ‘buen vivir’ (a pan-theistic concept), the ‘caresses of God,’ ‘ancestral wisdom,’ ‘cosmovision’ and other non-Christian beliefs as sources of theological knowledge. For some background, liberation theology is a movement originating in the mid-20th century that interpreted liberation in the context of social, economic and political liberation. The movement has associated itself both theologically and politically with Marxism. It has also earned condemnation from the Church because of its deviation from traditional beliefs. Some of these extreme beliefs include that one must be open to future incarnations of God, in the use of Marxist analytics, that the Eucharist is symbolic of all people in struggle, that God is history and other unorthodox views. Essentially, it opens up the floodgates to beliefs that are alien from Sacred Scripture and tradition.

The primary fault with using the remnants of these theologies is that they both either divinize creation or view Christ in an ebionite perspective in a misguided attempt to protect something they see as valuable. That is not to say the Church should not pursue the protection of the rainforest or indigenous peoples; it should. That is also not to say that the Church should be deciding these issues without the indigenous population; they are a necessary component to solving the problems of their region. But, the Church should do so in a way that does not replace the center of Christianity. Instead, answers should be sought out with respect to our unique relationship with Christ.

The questions raised by Christ are not easy. Sidestepping them or replacing them in an attempt at liberation or ecological harmony will only bring new oppression. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes that the Church has many times over-challenged popular opinion or oppression in various papal encyclicals, such as, “Mater et Magistra,” “Pacem in Terris,” “Populorum progressio,” “Evangelii nuntiandi” and so on. Ultimately, by using the previously mentioned beliefs as a guiding star, the synod will be alienating the greater Church from these worthwhile endeavors.