National Review recently ran an absurd article entitled “Querida Amazonia Reveals Francis’s Conservatism,” an unlikely piece of hagiography that will prove in time to be as risibly misguided as another National Review article, one authored by George Weigel on the day of Amoris Laetitia’s release in 2016: “Pope Francis on Love, Marriage, and the Family.” The former foolishly argues that Querida will be a “conservative victory”; the latter foolishly argued that Amoris was. Both comprise patently counterfactual arguments that offend the sensibilities of any discerning Catholic who remembers how “synodality” operates.
Whether or not the “official presentation” of last October’s final synod document within last week’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia meets constitutional muster as a “magisterial” attachment by Pope Francis, one can confidently presume that bishops around the world will begin implementing the particulars of the final synod document — namely, some iteration of the reification of viri probati and deaconesses. Moreover, one may also presume (without running afoul of rash judgment) that Pope Francis desires this implementation.
The pope tells us so in the very beginning of the exhortation (although the press — left, right, and center — seem to be ignoring it!). The relevant passages in paragraphs #3 and #4 of Querida Amazonia read, respectively:
I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod…I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full.
May God grant that the entire Church be enriched and challenged by the work of the synodal assembly [the final document]. May the pastors, consecrated men and women and lay faithful of the Amazon region strive to apply it, and may it inspire in some way every person of good will.
Nearly everything that follows Querida Amazonia’s paragraph #4 — much as everything outside Amoris Laetitia’s infamous Chapter Eight — reduces to florid stuff. The rest of these two comparable documents’ combined 76,000 words amount to the intentional “papering under” of the credulous reader. Whether delivered by footnote or by attachment, the payload — hidden in plain sight like a purloined letter on the mantel — is in either case camouflaged only by verbosity.
If one knows precisely where to point, then a plain reading of Querida Amazonia yields the indirect yet clear conclusion that worldwide bishops have been “greenlighted” to implement some iteration of viri probati and deaconess functionalism (most likely under the aegis of a new title to be announced in the coming months).
More specifically still, overlooked yet dangerous paragraph #89 in Querida sharply reminds the wary reader of the famed Amoris Laetitia footnote #351 by way of oblique reference to “sacraments.” After ostensibly occluding the path to Eucharistic celebration by members of the laity in paragraph #88, Querida’s paragraph #89 opens back up the possibility with this squinting inaccuracy: “In the specific circumstances of the Amazon region, particularly in its forests and more remote places, a way must be found to ensure this priestly ministry. The laity can proclaim God’s word, teach, organize communities, celebrate certain sacraments, seek different ways to express popular devotion and develop the multitude of gifts that the Spirit pours out in their midst.” What?! Aside from emergency baptisms, the laity cannot “celebrate certain sacraments,” which are never specified!
Querida’s Paragraph #92 carries the insinuation a bit further: “The Eucharist, then, as source and summit, requires the development of that rich variety. Priests are necessary, but this does not mean that permanent deacons (of whom there should be many more in the Amazon region), religious women and lay persons cannot regularly assume important responsibilities for the growth of communities, and perform those functions ever more effectively with the aid of a suitable accompaniment.”
Fr. Raymond De Souza’s Déjà Amoris
This feels like Amoris all over again, according to Fr. Raymond De Souza. It really does. But to be fair, how can one committed to tradition be so confidently skeptical of Querida Amazonia, especially amid the ungodly groans of a global left-Catholic commentariat purporting to be disappointed by it? Here’s one theory: because some of them are honest dupes, and the other ones are dishonest actors. Don’t be fooled.
It cannot be repeated frequently enough: for our post-synodal confusion today, the most exemplary historical model points us merely four years back in time, to the popular reception of the double family-synod and its subsequent exhortation. Recall the kabuki theater performed to perfection by Sankt Gallen Mafioso and Communion-for-unrepentant-adulterers mastermind Cardinal Walter Kasper in June 2015, bisecting the extraordinary and ordinary synods on the family. At that time, Kasper appeared on Raymond Arroyo’s World Over, where Arroyo introduced him by saying: “A year ago, the Cardinal was telling everyone that his proposal was ‘clearly what the Pope wants, and that’s evident.’ Tonight, he backs away from that papal endorsement. But he remains determined to press synod fathers to embrace his proposal.”
I recall scratching my head and wondering if Kasper had truly fallen from pontifical graces, as he appeared. In other words, back in the day before the release of Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Kasper expertly played the role of the “defeated radical” whose view had risen and fallen out of favor with the pope between 2014 and 2015. We now know that Kasper was play-acting and that the synodal process as implemented by Pope Francis turned out to be a series of Peronist tactics comprising a staggered, slow-timed release of a revolutionary change in Eucharistic discipline. Call it incrementalism: the true meaning of those synods was postponed (but not permanently estopped) beyond the April 2016 exhortation, until the September 2016 clarification by Pope Francis to Argentine bishops to the effect that Amoris indeed stood for Kasper’s proposition, after all.
Confused conservatives scratching their heads on account of Querida Amazonia should remember this model in the present.
While most of Kasper’s approach lacks clarity, his self-styled characterization of synodal incrementalism does not. In the same Arroyo interview, he clearly lays out the role of synods and even of the ecumenical council that created them: “I proposed to those who prepared the  synod a text which can be — can get — the agreement of the whole, of the great majority. It’s the same method also which we had in the [Second Vatican] Council.” Further asked by Arroyo whether or not the pope ever approved of Kasper’s proposal (Arroyo quotes Kasper saying this directly!), his answer was simultaneously prideful and mock-humble, nebulous and insinuative: “Now, of course I spoke beforehand with the Pope. It was not a conference, or an academic roundtable, but an important issue for the Cardinals. And he was in favor to open the debate but not a certain proposal. And I did not ask him what he wants. But he wanted to touch the problem and to open the debate. This he wanted. And I did it. I had the impression more or less that he agreed — what he said — afterward to the cardinals: it was his opinion. But I cannot say that I have now made the proposal of the pope.”
Here’s the upshot. Like Querida, Amoris represented: a) long awaited progressive disciplinary change b) culminating in the the synodal process, c) which was supposed to be — but was not — well defined in and circumscribed by a post-synodal exhortation d) but can be comprehended instead only in the hermeneutics of papal action subsequent to those synods. In other words, Pope Francis repeatedly returns to this trusted synodal playbook: the revolutionary should be crystal-clear about his aims for years before the synod; language should be suggestive yet opaque in the pursuant magisterial document; clarity should be restored in the subsequent pontifical instructions for worldwide action and implementation. In a word, this three-part play is the heart of “weaponized ambiguity,” to borrow the phrase of Monsignor Charles Pope.
Why do radicals in the Church operate like this? Recalling that synods were created at the Second Vatican Council, please see Kasper’s above admission about the “same method” employed in synods and the Council. The world’s attention was gathered on April 8, 2016 and again on February 12, 2020; if a disciplinary opening for discreet subsequent action can be generated simultaneous to a narrative of “nothing to see here” in the world press, then revolutionary change can later hide in plain sight. A retraction never generates as much noise as a juicy headline initially did, after all.
Did Anyone Call the Shot?
It is not Cardinal Kasper or even the German bishops alone who systematically achieve preconceived ends through rigged synods and mostly innocuous-sounding exhortations; it is ultimately the operative scheme of the group behind these men: the Sankt Gallen Mafia. According to Julia Meloni at Lifesitenews.com: “At a press conference shortly before the 2013 conclave, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor announced that celibacy ‘very well might come up,’ though it wouldn’t be ‘first on the agenda’ of the coming papacy.” Inquiring how Murphy-O’Connor knew beforehand the intentions and action items of the unmanned papacy should be left to the interrogative vigors of a separate article. What matters is that Murphy-O’Connor did know. According to Meloni’s article, Murphy-O’Connor repeated his bold prediction one year into the Francis pontificate: “a year after he successfully led the effort to elect Pope Francis, Murphy-O’Connor declared that he’d ask Rome to ordain suitable married men.” Murphy-O’Connor’s fellow travelers did the same. Meloni reports that, according to this La Croix article, selfsame Cardinal Kasper claimed in 2017 that the pope “wants episcopal conferences to decide on married priests.”
Let’s be honest: this sounds like the most reasonable construction of the key passages (named above) of Querida Amazonia anyway.
But it is not only the opponents of Catholic tradition who pre-signaled their treachery, according to Meloni. The good guys saw it coming, as well. Sankt Gallen rival and dubia-posing Cardinal Brandmüller said the following: “Communion for the divorced and ‘remarried’ [comes] first. Then abolition of priestly celibacy, second. Priesthood for women is the ultimate aim, and lastly unification with the Protestants. Then we will have a national German church, independent from Rome. Finally, together with all the Protestants.” Apparently, good Cardinal Brandmüller was foreseeing angles that today’s conservative Catholic commentators are missing, after the release of Querida.
Let’s unpack the logic just a bit more. According to the Meloni article, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor intoned the Sankt Gallen point of view on priestly celibacy that “ultimately the preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments are of much greater importance than an ecclesiastical law of an unmarried priesthood.” But of course, we know that radicals like Murphy-O’Connor believe in the soteriological uniqueness of neither the word nor the sacraments. So what are they up to? Think about the double–Trojan horse at work: Amoris Laetitia used the Church hierarchy to defile the sacraments (i.e., the Eucharist), just as Querida Amazonia (according to my predictions) will use the needfulness of the Eucharist to defile the celibate, male Church hierarchy. One Sankt Gallen hand washes the other: Church structures are invoked in order to change Church practices (Amoris Laetitia), and vice versa (Querida Amazonia).
These mafiosi are not so difficult to read if one understands their usage of the term “synodality.” It just means incremental, part-announced, part-unannounced mutation of the immutable.
In closing, remember that George Weigel and many others absurdly received Amoris Laetitia as a “victory” for conservatives, writing: “Those who say that Kasper has not been vindicated have the better of the argument[.] … But that won’t prevent others, including German-speaking bishops … who don’t seem capable of recognizing that their proposals were rejected by two synods of bishops, from claiming victory.” Those triumphalist conservative Catholics still today intoning similar encomiums about Querida Amazonia and the presumed right-wing coming-out party by Pope Francis should look to the pages of history…recent history recounted on the selfsame weblogs that recount their own premature victory-counting. History, even young history, chastens us with the specter of the past — even the recent past, which truly is prologue.
Timothy J. Gordon studied philosophy in pontifical graduate universities in Europe, taught it at Southern Californian community colleges, and then went on to law school. He holds degrees in literature, history, philosophy, and law. Currently, he resides in southern Mississippi with his wife and seven children, where he writes and teaches philosophy and theology. He is the author of Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish without Rome (Sophia, 2019).