The Synod of Bishops on the Amazon is off to an ominous start. Each day, as more bizarre, jarring, and revolutionary developments emerge, I keep coming back to a line from Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor: “When the cardinals elected Bergoglio they did not know what a Pandora’s box they were opening.”
Shortly before the synod started, Pope Francis and Claudio Cardinal Hummes, the synod’s general relator, hosted a startling indigenous ceremony in the Vatican gardens. Led by a female native of the Amazon region, a group encircling a mandala bowed down before a statue of Pachamama—Mother Earth. A synod official didn’t identify the (apparently nude) statue as the Blessed Virgin Mary, but rather said the image was probably meant to represent “Mother Earth, fertility, woman, life.” An Amazonian tribal leader, meanwhile, said that the ceremony looked decidedly “pagan.”
Another rite of “indigenous mysticism” took place at a pre-synodal meeting of bishops gathered around Cardinal Hummes’s group, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), which organized both the Vatican gardens ceremony and the synod. One commentator claimed that the synodal fathers “expect the [ceremonial] broth to be hot enough to ingest, in a kind of communion with the Pachamama.” In August, at another preparatory meeting for the synod, a Colombian shaman “blessed” the religious present.
In the synod’s opening days, more unsettling figures leaped out of Pandora’s box. Cardinal Hummes announced that indigenous communities had “requested” the ordination of married men—the very project Hummes has been pushing since at least 2006. Bishop Erwin Kräutler (reportedly the principal author of the synod’s working document) claimed that “indigenous people don’t understand celibacy,” endorsed a female diaconate, and admitted that the synod is “maybe a step to” women priests. Sr. Alba Teresa Cediel Castillo, a Columbian missionary, explained that women in the Amazon already “baptize children,” “celebrate” marriages, and “listen to confessions” without offering absolution. Even an experimental liturgical rite for the Amazon was proposed.
We now have “two religions within the Catholic Church,” according to historian Roberto de Mattei. The first is traditional Catholicism; the second is “the Amazonian religion,” he argues, charging that the synod’s working document endorses “pantheism and polytheism.”
At a hard-hitting roundtable of Catholic leaders, de Mattei pointed out that revolutions historically have long incubation periods but move dizzyingly fast once they explode. He believes that the current Church revolution has been simmering for 50 to 60 years and that now “it is possible that all will explode very, very rapidly.” The passage from a material schism to a formal schism “could be dramatic and happen very, very, very rapidly.”
Writing in The Catholic Thing on Tuesday, the renowned theologian Fr. Thomas Weinandy published an extraordinary text on “internal papal schism.” Fr. Weinandy predicted that neither an American nor a German schism will “formally happen”—yet, he explained, Pope Francis remains the “ultimate protector” of German leaders who are promoting “ambiguous teaching and pastoral practice… in accord with Francis’s own.” Thus, says Fr. Weinandy:
What the Church will end up with, then, is a pope who is the pope of the Catholic Church and, simultaneously, the de facto leader, for all practical purposes, of a schismatic church. Because he is the head of both, the appearance of one church remains, while in fact there are two.
The only phrase that I can find to describe this situation is “internal papal schism,” for the pope, even as pope, will effectively be the leader of a segment of the Church that through its doctrine, moral teaching, and ecclesial structure, is for all practical purposes schismatic. This is the real schism that is in our midst and must be faced, but I do not believe Pope Francis is in any way afraid of this schism. As long as he is in control, he will, I fear, welcome it, for he sees the schismatic element as the new “paradigm” for the future Church.
And so Pandora’s box joyously opens ever wider in the current post-modern papacy. To borrow an insight from Richard Spinello: “Pope Francis’s mindset, which so effortlessly tolerates contradictions and polarities, mirrors the post-modern mentality that celebrates disunity and indeterminacy over unity, continuity, and moral closure.”
The pope and his allies have lyricized all the fragmentation and chaos with the shimmering image of the polyhedron. “If we think of it as a precious stone, [the polyhedron] reflects the light which falls upon it in a wonderfully variegated way,” claims Walter Cardinal Kasper in his glowing book on Martin Luther. Sandro Magister, the renowned Vaticanist, is less poetic. For Pope Francis, he says, “the Church must be made precisely like this: ‘polyhedral,’ with many sides. In plainer words: in pieces.”
Another line keeps flashing through my mind: “Today the whole Church is seen dismembered.” It’s from St. Athanasius’s letter to his fellow bishops in the year 340. In it, the saint calls for his brothers to be “scandalized” by the despoiling of the Faith—and to exemplify courageous fidelity in response. “May what has been preserved in the Churches from the beginning down to the present day not be abandoned in our time; may what has been entrusted into our keeping not be embezzled by us.”
If we do not fight for the Faith, how much more will escape from Pandora’s box? As de Mattei powerfully said of the Amazon synod and its errors: “I call upon the Cardinals and Bishops who are still Catholic to raise their voices against this scandal. If their silence continues, we will continue to seek the intervention of the Angels and Mary Queen of Angels, to save the Holy Church from every form of reinvention, distortion and reinterpretation.”
Photo: the statue of Pachamama in the Vatican Garden (Getty Images)