Yesterday the post-synodal exhortation “Querida Amazonia” was published. With great sensitivity, it discussed the problems of poverty, exploitation, cultural colonization, migration and environmental degradation the Amazonia region is currently facing. It encouraged dialogue and appreciation of the unique contribution of the indigenous peoples to the shape of the universal Church.
What was most striking from the exhortation was that it did not resolve the great dilemmas brought to the Vatican by the preparatory document to the Synod. Instead, it seemed this document served as a further withdrawal from any concrete or bold proposals for reform and to bring about solutions to the pressing issues the Amazonia region are facing. The Pope recommended reading the final document of the Synod but did not settle the questions and open pastoral suggestions contained therein. “Querida Amazonia” proposed no concrete answers or solutions to those questions and requests.
One of the key issues brought to the Vatican by the Amazon Church was the formal recognition of women’s ministry and the possible sacramental support for their dedicated service in the Church. However, instead of concrete new proposals and solutions, there were a mere five paragraphs entitled “The strength and gift of women”.
In this section, the Pope writes about the great work, often indispensable, that women do in the Amazon Church, although that work is not formally recognized. Sadly, this appreciation of the role of women not only perpetuates but reinforces the exclusive tradition of the Church’s designation of a “special” place for women. This tradition describes women in a romanticized and idealized way, suggesting their role is in some way exceptional and set apart from or above and beyond the human norm. As a consequence, the basic form, the subject of Christian anthropology and moral theology, is man, and woman continues to be assigned a “special”, unique task, which does not include the diversity, freedom and charisms reserved for the “basic” version.
The shocking expression of this mentality is outlined in point 101 of the exhortation. The Pope writes that God has shown God’s power and love through two human faces: Christ and Mary. By putting them side by side, he is suggesting that men are similar to the former (Christ) and women to the latter (Mary). This takes away from the teaching that both woman and man are created in the image of God and thus both are, can and should be “Alter Christus”.
The theology behind this phrase is dangerous because it serves to exclude women from access to the full means of salvation. For there is an important ontological difference between Jesus and Mary – even though they are both human, Jesus is also God. The basis of the Christian faith is the conviction that Christ adopted human nature inclusively, not male nature exclusively, and that thanks to this, every human being can be saved and is indeed divinized in Christ.
So, if women are only being compared to the likeness of Mary, then why are women baptized in the name of Christ? Why at baptism are they called to be priestly, prophetic and royal which is a share in Christ’s own priestly, prophetic and royal ministry? How should they understand the term “Imitatio Christi“, which is so fundamental to any Christian spirituality? Above all, on what basis are they to be saved if they do not share the likeness of Christ?
At the same time, there remains, of course, the practical question of what this “characteristic power” is that women in the Church have. The document seems to suggest that it consists in imitating Mary’s motherhood. How should this be understood? How should it be manifested concretely for the community of believers? If we are to take it seriously, is the evaluation and thus validity of our vocations and charisms to be verified only by their similarity to motherhood?
Moreover, the document offers a compelling vision of an inculturated priesthood suffused by the values of pastoral care. But surely, if clericalism is a dysfunctional aspect of the contemporary priesthood and inculturation offers a new and more diverse understanding of what it means to be a priest, then the ordination of women with all the qualities that Pope Francis attributes to them would be the best possible antidote to the clerical mindset?
Most of the document speaks with great respect and maturity about the indigenous people of the Amazon, about their needs and concerns. It encourages the global Church to listen to their opinions and their stories with sensitivity and attention. What is striking is the contrast with which women are treated in the very same document – their voices have so clearly not been heard, they are not equal partners for shaping the future of the Church.
In spite of this clearly excluding message we, women from Catholic Women’s Council will not give up our hopes and vocations. Inspired by the example of our Amazonian sisters in faith, and in imitation of the Syrophoenician woman who persisted despite Jesus’ initial rebuff (Mark 7:25-30), we take responsibility for our Church into our hands. United we will work for the Church that incarnates the equality and dignity we find in the Gospel and that teaches us to follow Christ whoever we are.