On 12 February, Pope Francis issued his “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation: Querida Amazonia” taking up issues raised in the final report of the Amazon Synod. PSG reported on early drafts of the final report.

The new document reaffirms the importance of an ‘integral ecology’. This concept centres on people: their physical and emotional wants and needs, their relations with others within and without their community, their culture, their relation to the environment, their spiritual needs. Francis warns against narrow vision, such as environmentalism. This is seen as too narrow a focus on the environment that misses out on the complexities of the human situation. But he also warns against the “ecclesial structure [becoming] just another NGO”, focusing on peoples’ physical and emotional wants etc. but forgetting the spiritual dimension.

Francis then notes the problem of lack of priests to cover the vast area of Amazonia. He urges the Church to make greater efforts to train more priests. However, we should note that there has not been huge success on this front over several decades.

He urges a better ‘inculturation’ of the Church to Amazonia quoting Pope John Paul II “Christianity does not have one cultural expression”, warning against incoming evangelisers imposing their own cultural forms. He says that “a myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered an error”. This would seem to refer to the ‘Pachamama’ controversy.

Francis touches on the role of women noting they have a central part to play and they “should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not include Holy Orders ….. these services should have public recognition and a commission from the bishop”. The position on women priests remains unchanged.

There then follows a section entitled ‘Expanding Horizons Beyond Conflict’. It starts:
“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. When this occurs, it is probable 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.”

This comment surely must refer to the issue of married priests, a topic raised in the input to the synod which created great controversy but not mentioned in this Exhortation. The conclusion is that the issue had not been resolved and had been left awaiting “a greater gift that God is offering … that gift which awakens a new and greater creativity, there will pour forth … the answers that contraposition did not allow us to see.”

However, significantly, the discussion is allowed to continue. A full discussion is given by Austen Ivereigh who recently published a second biography of Francis covering the period since his election as pope.