Synodal and pastoral Magisterium

Par Don Pio Pace

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The post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia, dated 2 February 2020, took everyone off-guard: while, to alleviate the lack of eucharistic celebration in the Amazon, the final document of the assembly of the Synod had suggested the priestly ordination of married deacons (n.111)[1], the very much expected post-synodal exhortation said nothing about it.

We should most probably interpret this silence as a classic process of “transaction”, similar to those Paul VI carried out a few times, during the Council: while maintaining a general line, he met the conservative on some of their positions, in a diplomatic move. The conservative line was then reassured, though the progressive were exasperated[2], both without true motives.

In fact, Mgr Victor Manuel Fernandez, Archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, one of the prelates closest to the pope, has published in the L’Osservatore Romano of 17 February 2020, an article giving an interpretation key of the exhortation which seems totally authorized. Querida Amazonia which, according to him, proposes to create an Amazonian Church “definitely secular”[3], is simply a “supplementary” to the final document, thus constituting a “synodal novelty.” So, the question of the married priesthood and the other propositions of the synod, he believes, are not at all irrelevant, but will be rather reintroduced again in a new “Amazonian rite” to be developed [similar, if we understood it right, to an Oriental rite, though integrated to the Roman rite, where the married priesthood would exist].

Indeed, when we read carefully the introduction of Querida Amazonia, we notice it is the pope who officially presents this document”, and invites “to read it in its entirety” (n.3), contenting himself with giving a brief frame of reflection”, and summarizing certain great concerns he expressed in former documents (n. 2).

We ought to remember that the Constitution Episcopalis communio on the Synod of the bishops, dated 15 September 2018, provided that the final document of an assembly brought to the pope, if it were approved expressively by him, without any particular form being required for this approbation, participated in the “ordinary magisterium of the Successor or Peter” (art. 18). Nothing surprising here: in the same way the pope could, by his sole authority, approved with the seal of infallibility such and such teachings of a council or a particular synod. But no one will support the fact that we are here in the domain of infallibility: indeed, we are in the so-called pastoral domain, inferior to the doctrinal, and which allows for a teaching “at liberty”.

This is, in any case, what is clearly claimed (the inferior degree and the teaching “at liberty”) in the introduction of the very controversial exhortation Amoris lætitia, on the basis that all the doctrinal debates, moral or pastoral, must not be decided by magisterial intervention” (n.3), and  thus, how even more so, the exhortation Querida Amazonia, which shares the pope’s “reflections” and “dreams”. In this way, we would, thus, be dealing with a pastoral exhortation – purely pastoral, of which the teaching is solely in the order of a “frame of reflections” – which, because of the official nature of a synodal assembly final document, would automatically make it part of this same pastoral teaching of the pope. A sort of synodal-pastoral circle. While the pontifical exhortation, which modestly adopted the assembly’s final document, is accepted as synodal, at the same time the synodal proposition to order married deacons to the priesthood, thus made part of he pontifical “reflection”, is then accepted as pastoral. And when the time is right, it will be the decision of the Amazonian bishops (and the German bishops as well, and others too…) to implement it pastorally and through synodal structures.

Pio Pace

[1] “We propose that criteria and dispositions be established by the competent authority, within the framework of Lumen Gentium 26, to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.”

[2] The progressives had labeled this week “black week”, which extended from Monday 16 November to Saturday 21 November. During that week Paul VI had added a traditional minded Nota explicative praevia to the constitution Lumen gentium, postponed the discussion on the document on religious liberty to the next session, and made about twenty small corrections to the decree on ecumenism.

[3] See Res Novæ, the translation of our article on the website Rorate Cæli, “Querida Amazonia: in favor of a kind of “secular Church” “.