What Does the Amazon Synod’s Working Document Really Say?

Much ink has been spilled debating the merits and even the orthodoxy of the Instrumentum Laboris (or working document) of the Amazon Synod, which begins on October 6. We’re now less than one week out from the main event and, curiously, there has been no close reading of the Instrumentum itself. So, let’s begin with the basics.

There are six main themes in the document: colonialism, ecology and environmentalism, the South American Church’s decades-long involvement in liberation theology, syncretism of Catholicism with indigenous religions, the possibility of married priests, and the role of women in the Church. The synod fathers’ declarations on any and each of these issues may have implications for the global Church.

The Instrumentum is long on advocacy and accusations but tells us almost nothing substantive. It’s uninformative in general about the Amazon and the local Church. Although the Amazon River itself is almost entirely in Brazil, the Amazon River Basin includes parts of nine of South America’s twelve countries, plus French Guiana. The Vatican’s website for the synod includes a minimal and mostly historical background report from each country; we’re told little about the status and conditions in and of dioceses, parishes, seminaries, schools, hospitals, or other Church institutions, nor are we told about the numbers of priests, brothers, and nuns. Some of these national reports list the name of tribes but omit anything significant or specific about the indigenous peoples of the religion.

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