Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazon) is the title of a recent apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis. It is his official response to the final document of the October 2019 synod of Catholic bishops, The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology. Francis describes four dreams (social, cultural, ecological, ecclesial) but then proposes a pathetic rationalization that seemingly declares the church free from any responsibility of self-reformation in order to help such dreams become reality. With all due respect for Francis, it is argued in this page that, since patriarchy is the root cause of social/ecological injustice, the church remaining a religious patriarchy is an obstacle to integral human development and an integral ecology, in the Amazon region and in the entire world.
Is Querida Amazonia and exercise in synodality or is it an exercise in kicking the can down the road? It is both. It certainly conveys an attitude of receptive listening to the concerns and hopes that emerged during the synod (see, for example, An Overview of "Querida Amazonia"). But, by deciding not to decide on key issues of church reform, such as the ordination of women, it is also a signal that we are not ready for self-reformation when this means ending our addiction to religious patriarchy.
Pope Francis dreams big in several key dimensions, but significant gender issues in every dimension are notably absent. The exhortation describes four dreams:
A social dream to go from social injustice to social justice: I dream of an Amazon region that fights for the rights of the poor, the original peoples and the least of our brothers and sisters, where their voices can be heard and their dignity advanced. But nothing is said about the patriarchal culture that breeds gender violence and social injustice.
A cultural dream to go from cultural stereotypes to interpersonal communion: I dream of an Amazon region that can preserve its distinctive cultural riches, where the beauty of our humanity shines forth in so many varied ways. But nothing is said about patriarchal stereotypes that inhibit gender equality and gender unity in diversity.
An ecological dream to go from ecological crisis to integral ecology: I dream of an Amazon region that can jealously preserve its overwhelming natural beauty and the superabundant life teeming in its rivers and forests. But nothing is said about natural man/woman and human/planet relations being degraded by patriarchy.
An ecclesial dream to go from old institutional faces to new communitarian faces: I dream of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features. But nothing is said about institutional patriarchy and the exclusion of women from sacramental ministries.
The reason for the absence of the gender dimension in the four dreams becomes apparent in sections 99-103 of the exhortation, on the strength and gift of women:
Section 99 compliments the missionary ministry of women, but says nothing about why it can be missionary but sacramental only for baptism.
Section 100 cautions against the clericalization of women but says nothing about why it is fine to ordain and clericalize men.
Section 101 reduces the Christ-Church mystery to a patriarchal analogy (as in Evangelli Gaudium 104).
Section 102 encourages women to keep serving but says nothing about enabling them to administer the other six sacraments.
Section 103 reiterates that official ministries by women should not be empowered by ordination because such empowerment would not reflect "their womanhood."
With all due respect for Pope Francis, this still sounds patriarchal, condescending, and contaminated by the complementarian gender stereotypes that disregard the unity of man and woman in one and the same human nature (Cf. Theology of the Body, 8).
Then, in section 105, there is this statement: In its earliest days, the Christian faith spread remarkably in accordance with this way of thinking, which enabled it, from its Jewish roots, to take shape in the Greco-Roman cultures, and in time to acquire distinctive forms. Similarly, in this historical moment, the Amazon region challenges us to transcend limited perspectives and “pragmatic” solutions mired in partial approaches, in order to seek paths of inculturation that are broader and bolder. If the Christian faith outgrew Jewish roots and took on Greco-Roman forms, why is it that it cannot outgrow Jewish patriarchal roots and take broader and bolder egalitarian forms?
The church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal. Given that gender shapes the world, and therefore gender relations are crucial for integral human development and an integral ecology, the reticence to engage the gender dimension of social and ecological issues, in the Amazonian region and in the entire world, is perplexing. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology (Laudato Si' #118) and gender is intrinsic to an adequate anthropology. In order to inject the missing gender dimension in a way consistent with the Christian faith in the incarnation, the following forty points for meditation are offered in response to the four dreams in Querida Amazonia:
1. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, God made flesh, not a patriarch.
2. God the Father is a person, but not a male.
3. God the Son is a person, but was not a male before the incarnation.
4. God the Holy Spirit is a person, but not a male.
5. The Trinity is a communion of persons, not a patriarchate.
6. The "Son of Man" is God made flesh, not a patriarch.
7. All men and women are fully consubstantial in one and the same human nature.
8. Bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical.
9. Being a body-soul is more fundamental for human nature than sexuality.
10. The body is a sacrament of the entire person, but is not the entire person.
11. The priest acts in the person of Christ, not in the masculinity of Christ.
12. All men and women are ontologically homogeneous in their whole being.
13. All men and women are of the same flesh in their somatic structure.
14. The complementarity of man and woman is enabled by their consubstantiality.
15. All men and women are fully consubstantial with Jesus Christ as to his humanity.
16. For the redemption, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes.
17. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, not the male of life.
18. The substance of the Eucharist is BODY, not XX or XY chromosomes.
19. The substance of the Eucharist is FLESH, not testosterone.
20. The Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal.
21. Patriarchy is a disordered attachment to the supremacy of masculinity.
22. The Church is a communion of persons, not a patriarchate.
23. The Church is the body of Christ, not a woman with a male head.
24. The Virgin Mary is the "type" of the Church, not a woman with a male head.
25. The Virgin Mary precedes the sacramental economy as Mother of the Eucharist.
26. The Marian dimension of the Church precedes the apostolic dimension.
27. Apostolic succession is contingent on redeemed flesh, not on masculinity.
28. The nuptial mystery of Christ and the Church is not a patriarchal marriage.
29. Canon 1024 is an artificial contraceptive and abortifacient of female priestly vocations.
30. Catechism 1577 reduces the priesthood of the New Law to priesthood of the Old Law.
31. Catechism 1598 declares that ordaining only males is a choice, not a dogma.
32. The exclusively male priesthood makes invisible the "feminine genius" in Christ.
33. The Christian/Catholic/Orthodox faith is not intrinsically (dogmatically) patriarchal.
34. The conflation of patriarchal gender ideology and Christian doctrines is a disgrace.
35. Institutionalized ecclesiastical patriarchy is an abuse against Christ and the Church.
36. It is time to discard the patriarchal scaffolding that obscures the Catholic faith.
37. Male headship is an ancient but entirely artificial cultural custom, not natural law.
38. After the resurrection, nothing requires that apostolic succession be exclusively male.
39. The first "transubstantiation" in history happened in the Blessed Virgin Mary's body.
40. Transubstantiation can happen via women ordained to act in persona Christi.
Consider points 1, 12 to 16, and 20. From the beginning, man and woman share one and the same human nature, body and soul. From the beginning, human nature entails both relational complementarity and consubstantial unity. Why the patriarchal emphasis on male headship and complementarity, and the utter disregard for unity? Male headship is a cultural construct that emerged after "original sin" (Genesis 3:16). The Christian faith is not intrinsically patriarchal. Why should the beauty of human unity in diversity be admired in the body of Christ and deprecated in the head? It is precisely this unity in diversity that is an image of the Trinity, imago Dei. After the redemption, why should we have seven sacraments for boys and six for girls?
Since gender shapes the world, the patriarchal culture of male hegemony is a root cause of social and ecological injustice, and religious institutions are complicit when such distortion of natural law is perpetuated and reinforced by patriarchal vocabulary such as "God the Father" and patriarchal practices such as the exclusively male priesthood. Anthropological rationalizations to justify a benign religious patriarchy are patently condescending and no longer credible.
Querida Amazonia #87 quotes Gustav Mahler: "Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the passing on of the flame." Laudato Si' #114 states: "All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution." But, in order to pass on the flame, a fossilized tradition of patriarchal gender relations must be transcended in order to foster a bold cultural revolution in man/woman and human/habitat relations; for human/habitat relations are a mirror of man/woman relations. It is time to face the consequences of "original sin" in gender relations (Genesis 3:16).
Querida Amazonia disappoints as an exercise in kicking the can down the road. Hopefully, it is also a discreet call for synodality and reformation from the grassroots. It has been announced that the 2022 synod of Catholic Bishops will be on synodality. But will it be an exclusively patriarchal synodality?
As long as religious institutions remain patriarchal, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Dreams about social justice, ecological integrity, cultural evolution, church renewal, and integral human development, are fantasies prone to become nightmares unless religious patriarchies face reality: patriarchy is past history, Christ is not a patriarch, the Christian faith is not intrinsically patriarchal, the Golden Rule is a chimera when people follow patriarchal norms. Specifically, in the Catholic Church, it is time to dismantle religious patriarchy. To ordain more married men, and refuse to ordain celibate women, would add insult to injury. It is time to ordain celibate women to the priesthood and the episcopate. If the Catholic Church provides leadership, other religious institutions will follow and more people might become willing to undergo "ecological conversion."
Humanity, male and female,
one and the same human nature, one and the same flesh,
relational complementarity in consubstantial unity,
reciprocal belonging in the unity of the body
~ Cf. Theology of the Body