Pope Francis’ Amazon exhortation calls for holiness, not married priests

Pope Francis published his response to the Vatican’s 2019 Amazon synod in an apostolic exhortation Wednesday. Despite widespread speculation following the synod, the pope does not call for married priests, but seeks to expand “horizons beyond conflicts.”

Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis’s much-anticipated post-synodal apostolic exhortation, presents the pope’s “four great dreams” for the Pan-Amazonian region’s ecological preservation and “Amazonian holiness.”

The exhortation does not quote from recommendations made by bishops at the Vatican’s October meeting on the Amazon. Instead, Pope Francis “officially present[s]” the synod’s final document alongside his exhortation, asking “everyone to read it in full.”

The topic of ordaining viri probati, or mature married men, was a point of considerable discussion at the synod, and made waves across the Church.

While Pope Francis did not rebuff the idea directly in his exhortation, the Vatican’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, addressed it in a column released alongside the apostolic exhortation

Speaking of priestly celibacy, Tornielli wrote that “the Successor of Peter, after praying and reflecting, has decided to respond not by foreseeing changes or further possibilities of exceptions from those already provided for by current ecclesiastical discipline, but by asking that the essentials be the starting point,” for discussions regarding priestly ministry in the Amazon.

“He asks us to begin again with a vivacious and incarnated faith, with a renewed missionary thrust rooted in the grace that allows room for God to act rather than on marketing strategies or the communication technologies relied on by the religious influencers,” Tornielli added

Nearly half of the pope’s own 24-page document is dedicated to outlining the pontiff’s “Ecclesial Dream” for the Amazon region, in which Pope Francis stresses the singular role of the priest, while affirming the laity’s ongoing contributions to evangelization.

“No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist … This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” Pope Francis wrote in the exhortation, published Feb. 12.

Pope Francis said that Querida Amazonia provides his “own response” to the discussions that took place at the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region October 6-27.

In Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis warns against an outlook that restricts “our understanding of the Church to her functional structures.” The pope also rejects a narrow vision of “conceptions of power in the Church” that “clericalize women.”

“Efforts need to be made to configure ministry in such a way that it is at the service of a more frequent celebration of the Eucharist, even in the remotest and most isolated communities … There is also a need for ministers who can understand Amazonian sensibilities and cultures from within,” Pope Francis wrote.

“The way of shaping priestly life and ministry is not monolithic; it develops distinctive traits in different parts of the world. This is why it is important to determine what is most specific to a priest, what cannot be delegated. The answer lies in the sacrament of Holy Orders, which configures him to Christ the priest. The first conclusion, then, is that the exclusive character received in Holy Orders qualifies the priest alone to preside at the Eucharist,” Francis said.

The pope called for revision to “the structure and content of both initial and ongoing priestly formation” to be more pastoral and in dialogue with Amazonian cultures. Francis said that “the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority” is required in the region, calling for more permanent deacons and women religious to address the Amazon’s challenges.

Following the controversy sparked by the presence of indigenous statues at Vatican events during the Amazon synod in October and the subsequent apology by Pope Francis for “Pachamama” being thrown in the Tiber River, Pope Francis uses the post-synodal apostolic exhortation to appeal for unity and sensitivity to the over 110 distinct indigenous cultures in the Amazon.

“Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples,” Pope Francis wrote.

“It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry. A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error. Some religious festivals have a sacred meaning and are occasions for gathering and fraternity, albeit in need of a gradual process of purification or maturation,” he explained.

“The greatest danger would be to prevent them from encountering Christ by presenting him as an enemy of joy or as someone indifferent to human questions and difficulties,” he added.

In a section entitled, “Expanding horizons beyond conflicts,” Pope Francis lays forth his call for a transcendence of conflict:

“It often happens that in particular places pastoral workers envisage very different solutions to the problems they face, and consequently propose apparently opposed forms of ecclesial organization,” Pope Francis said.

“When this occurs, it is probably that the real response to the challenges of evangelization lies in transcending the two approaches and finding other, better ways, perhaps not yet even imagined.  Conflict is overcome at a higher level, where each group can join the other in a new reality, while remaining faithful to itself,” he added.

Pope Francis presented his four dreams — social, cultural, ecological, and ecclesial — for the “Beloved Amazon” region with indigenous poetry interspersed throughout the apostolic exhortation.

“Poets, contemplatives and prophets, help free us from the technocratic and consumerist paradigm that destroys nature and robs us of a truly dignified existence,” the pope wrote.

The pope also made a point that this apostolic exhortation is addressed “to the whole world,” not just to the Amazonian region.

“The equilibrium of our planet … depends on the health of the Amazon region,” he said. “It serves as a great filter of carbon dioxide, which helps avoid the warming of the earth.”

Francis’ ecological dream for the region encompasses an integral need to protect the human dignity of people living in the region.

“We do not need an environmentalism that is concerned for the biome but ignores the Amazonian peoples,” he wrote. “My predecessor Benedict XVI condemned ‘the devastation of the environment and the Amazon basin, and the threats against the human dignity of the peoples living in that region.’”

“We cannot allow globalization to become a new version of colonialism,” Pope Francis said after apologizing for historic “crimes committed against native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

Colonization has not ended, Pope Francis said, it has been “changed, disguised and concealed, while losing none of its contempt for the life of the poor and the fragility of the environment.”

Pope Francis signed the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on February 2 in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.

“The pastoral presence of the Church in the Amazon region is uneven, due in part to the vast expanse of the territory, its many remote places, its broad cultural diversity, its grave social problems, and the preference of some peoples to live in isolation. We cannot remain unconcerned; a specific and courageous response is required of the Church,” Pope Francis said.

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit: https://www.cocatholicconference.org/2021-legislative-bills-analysis/  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 


HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.