Now that the Amazon Synod is breaking on the consciousness of people who are not total Catholics nerds, due to the vigilante violence of goons cosplaying as destroyers of idols, I thought I should give a little background to Outsiders as to what is going on with the synod–and with the strange little sect of Catholic Know Nothings who have appointed themselves the Angels of God’s Wrath against the Holy Father and their brother and sister Catholics in the Amazon for which they have displayed such contempt.
So here’s the thing. According to John Allen, Jr., right now is the greatest period of Catholic evangelization in the history of the Church. In the past century, the Church has grown something on the order of 700%. And the overwhelming bulk of that growth has been in Asia and the global South.
First problem: the flock vastly outnumbers the shepherds, including in the Amazon basin. So the Church is having a synod to figure out how to meet the pastoral needs of the flock. Sherry Weddell provides needed background:
I keep trying to make this simple point . . . but American Catholics just can’t imagine a world without ready access to the sacraments. The sacramentally rich who can’t or won’t imagine the world of the permanently sacramentally poor.
“Americans often complain of a priest shortage, but the statistical fact of the matter is that the U.S. is priest-rich compared to everywhere other than Western Europe. In the U.S. there’s one priest for every 1,300 baptized Catholics. Across Latin America it’s 1 to 7,000, in sub-Saharan Africa it’s 1 to 5,300, and in the Caribbean it’s 1 to 8,300.
In some Latin American nations, including several that share the Amazon, those ratios in some dioceses can soar as high as 1 to 16,000 or 17,000. Moreover, the isolation of many rural communities in the Amazon, which are accessible only by boat or by horseback up steep mountain climbs, sometimes means they see a priest only once every few weeks, perhaps once every six months or so.
Routine sacramental life under such circumstances is obviously impossible. Mass, confession, and so on, which are the backbone of Catholic life most places, is exceedingly rare, and those communities feel the absence of it. It’s almost like being under a sort of geographical interdict, except for the fact these people have committed no sin to warrant it.
For bishops from these parts of the world, the issue of the viri probati isn’t a question of left v. right, and some of the prelates campaigning for it are otherwise among the deepest theological and political conservatives you’ll ever meet. It’s also not tied to any larger diagnosis of what’s ailing the Church – it’s instead a simple practical matter of wanting to be able to provide the sacraments to their people on a regular basis.”
In addition, there is another complicating issue: history. The Church in South America is guilty–and knows it is guilty–of sometimes aiding in the colonial oppression of native populations. No. Not the entire Church (a viewing of The Mission shows the complexity of the situation), but that is hardly a comfort to the victims of the oppression. But the Church has learned it lesson on that score and is returning to the practice of the early Church by trying to honor what is good in indigenous cultures rather than crush them in favor of a monoculture.
In the Amazon, that is not only a theological issue, it’s a very present matter of life and death for the flock, because the fascist who runs that country, Jair Bolsonaro is, just like the Republican rite goons in the US who are trying to turn the Church into the cult of Trump, using Catholic imagery to paint himself as the “Real Catholic” leader while making open and naked war on the peoples living in the Amazon Basin. Why? Because of the land he wants to steal from them and the forests he wants to burn down which are their home and their means of sustenance. And he is looking the other way while murder squads go in to kill these people. In short, he is weaponizing traditional Catholic piety, just like Trump supporters here, and for the same purpose, to victimize a scapegoated people. Ours are at the border. His are in the Amazon Basin. Only this time, the Church is standing foursquare on the side of the victims in both countries.
In short, as ever, this Pope is a complete open book if you just memorize these words: “He has preached good news to the poor.” The goal here is to defend the least of these from oppression and to make sure they have access to the gospel and the sacraments. It’s a Christian and Catholic as it gets.
So why are Catholics attacking the Synod and why did they throw a statue called Our Lady of the Amazon in the Tiber? More on that tomorrow.