“The Pope is letting German reformers down,” says a comment in the German weekly “Die Zeit”. What had happened?
Last October the “Amazon Synod” took place in the Vatican. This congress dealt with the pressing problems of the church in the Amazon forest, which spreads over nine South American countries. The final document of the synod was fiercely struggled because it particularly dealt with the highly sensitive issues of environmental destruction, celibacy of priests and equality of women in the church.
Even more exciting than the Synod’s revolutionary answers was the question of how the Argentine Pope Jorge-Mario Bergoglio would deal with it. Would Francis, who speaks of himself only as “Bishop of Rome”, allow priests to be married and women consecrated around the world? Or would he refuse? How would the Pope decide?
So what did Francis do? He did what no one expected him to do, neither the opponents nor the proponents of the Synod’s revolutionary responses. He decided to take a much bigger step:
“During the Synod, I listened to the presentations and read with interest the reports of the discussion groups. In this Exhortation, I wish to offer my own response to this process of dialogue and discernment.” Then the Pope creates a social, cultural, ecological and ecclestial vision. In the Spanish original he calls this vision “sueño” which is translated into the English version as “dream”.
So the Pope starts dreaming. At the same time, he is taking a very real step: “At the same time, I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately. I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full.”
The Pope acts like a teacher who does not dictate to his students, but encourages them to acquire their own knowledge. He is not a leader who commands his subjects, but in the best sense of the gospel a “shepherd” who empowers his “flock” to think and act independently. He himself will not wed priests or consecrate women. But he does not do so under the dogma of “infallibility”, but as “primus inter pares”, as “first among equals”, as “bishop of Rome”. (Significantly, he did not sign this Apostolic Exhortation on 02.02.2020 in the Vatican, but in San Giovanni in Laterano, the bishop’s seat of the Pope.) In any case, he has already made it possible in the Amazon, not only by taking note of the final document, but far more officially presenting it.
The final chapter of Pope Francis’ “love letter” begins with the following words: “After sharing a few of my dreams, I encourage everyone to advance along concrete paths that can allow the reality of the Amazon region to be transformed and set free from the evils that beset it.”
And it ends with a prayer to Mary, the “mother of life”: “Reign so that no one else can claim lordship over the handiwork of God. We trust in you, Mother of life. Do not abandon us in this dark hour. Amen.”
“The Catholic Church, which encompasses far more than the partial church in Germany, is apparently still not ready for major changes,” is the conclusion of the commentary in ‘Die Zeit’. However, the change may be much greater than German reformers can even imagine.