Editor’s note: On Sunday, November 24, 2019, 1P5 contributor Dr. Peter Kwasniewski gave a lecture at the FSSP parish in Houston, Regina Caeli, entitled “A Theological Review of the Amazon Synod.” Below is the video of his remarks, including the Q&A session afterwards; below that is the unedited transcript (without the Q&A). Those who prefer simply audio may find it at Dr. Kwasniewski’s SoundCloud page, where it may be freely downloaded. PLEASE NOTE: A new version of the video has been prepared that includes Vatican footage and photography. Whenever Dr. Kwasniewski mentions or comments on some event, such as the Pachamama rituals in the Vatican Garden, the prostrations, the blessing of the idol, the giving of the black ring, the procession into the Synod hall, the bowl placed on the altar, etc., all of these things are shown as they appeared on Vatican News, in L’Osservatore Romano, etc. It’s a tremendous tool for teaching about the evils of the Synod.
Catholics the world over have been disturbed, demoralized, scandalized, and galvanized by the recently completed Amazon Synod. As Br. André-Marie observed:
The recently concluded Amazon Synod was at least as horrifying as expected: on display were idolatry, syncretism, indifferentism, feminism, modernism, radical environmentalism, and liberation theology, a much more terrifying combination than anything Steven King or John Carpenter could imagine.[i]
A complete theological analysis of this Synod would take many lectures, not just one, so I will have to be selective and brief. My talk today will have four parts. First, I will discuss the violations of the first Commandment that took place at the Vatican. This will segue into part 2, on the concept of inculturation. Then part 3 will take up the proposal to abolish mandatory clerical celibacy, and part 4, the proposal to ordain female deacons or deaconesses.
I imagine that the first thing on everyone’s mind is the commission of sins of idolatry that punctuated the Synod. The Ten Commandments are listed in order of importance. Think about what that means: having false gods is a sin worse than adultery or murder. For this reason I did not hesitate to add my signature to the signatures of a hundred other scholars and pastors on the recent “Protest against Pope Francis’s Sacrilegious Acts,” dated November 9 and released November 12. Before continuing, we must define a key term. “Pachamama” is a South American fertility goddess or divinity, venerated for centuries by pagans, by poorly evangelized or catechized Christians, and, more recently, by some New Age cults.[ii]
The protest lists the following sacrilegious acts:
- On October 4, Pope Francis attended an act of idolatrous worship of Pachamama.
- He allowed this worship to take place in the Vatican Gardens, desecrating the vicinity of the graves of the martyrs and of the church of the Apostle Peter.
- He participated in this act of idolatrous worship by blessing a wooden image of Pachamama.
- On October 7, the idol of Pachamama was placed in front of the main altar at St. Peter’s and then carried in procession to the Synod Hall. Pope Francis said prayers in a ceremony involving this image and then joined in this procession.
- When wooden images of this pagan deity were removed from the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, where they had been sacrilegiously placed, and thrown into the Tiber by Catholics outraged by this profanation of the church, Pope Francis, on October 25, apologized for their removal and another wooden image of Pachamama was returned to the church. Thus, a new profanation was initiated.
- On October 27, in the closing Mass for the synod, he accepted a bowl used in the idolatrous worship of Pachamama and placed it directly on the altar.
Some commentators have dismissed the charges of idolatry and sacrilege, arguing that the wooden figures were not idols; that they were not being venerated as gods or spirits or forces of nature; and even that they were meant to represent the Virgin Mary (however offensively portrayed). But these arguments do not hold up to critical scrutiny.[iii]
Vatican officials repeatedly clarified that the pregnant female wooden figure was not intended to be an Amazonian representation of the Blessed Mother. At a news conference on October 16, Father Giacomo Costa, a Vatican communications official for the Synod, stated: “It is not the Virgin Mary. . . It is an indigenous woman who represents life, . . . [and is] neither pagan nor sacred.” Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican Communications Dicastery, said, “Fundamentally, it represents life … life through a woman.”[iv] Finally, Pope Francis himself referred to these wooden images as being of “Pachamama,” i.e., definitely not the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Fr. Costa’s claim that the image is “neither pagan nor sacred” needs to be evaluated in the light of the recorded fact that in the Vatican gardens, and later in Santa Maria in Traspontina, the Pachamama images were integrated into religious ceremonies.[v] The female shamaness can be seen on video raising hands before the twin Pachamama figurines, kneeling, and prostrating herself, face to the ground.[vi] (It has been pointed out that even if the image were of the Blessed Virgin, such a gesture would be reprehensible as superstition, since Catholic tradition sees prostration as a mark of adoration, which is reserved for God alone.) The shamaness then presented one of the images to Pope Francis, who blessed the proffered wooden image with the sign of the cross. All this disproves Fr. Costa’s claim that the Pachamama figurines are not seen as “sacred” by their devotees. And it renders ridiculous the claim that carrying Pachamama into a church in procession is not morally different from a sports team taking their banner (a purely secular object) into a church during Mass.
Since the Pachamama images do not represent the true God, the Blessed Mother, or any other Christian saint, the religious acts involving them stand condemned by Catholic teaching. The section entitled “idolatry” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in n. 2112 that the First Commandment, in condemning polytheism, “requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God.” Note how the Catechism uses the more general words “venerate” and “divinities,” rather than “adore” and “gods”: the Church is setting the bar relatively low as to what constitutes idolatry. While the prostrations she received strongly suggest latria or adoration, it is beyond dispute that Pachamama was at least venerated in these papally-patronized ceremonies. The Catechism’s language also renders irrelevant the heated debate over whether Pachamama, in the current Amazonian (as distinct from Incan) usage, is truly seen as a “goddess” or not. For the word “divinities” is broader than “god” and “goddess.” It covers also the animistic and/or pantheistic belief that certain objects and places are intrinsically sacred, numinous, holy, and to be religiously revered. The religious honor given to Pachamama in Rome and elsewhere makes it clear that “she,” or the “Earth Mother” represented by her images, is seen by her devotees as a “divinity” of some sort—and certainly not “the one true God.”[vii] The female cult leader spoke explicitly of the “divinity” or “divine” quality inherent in the Amazonian soil that she reverently brought up in a black bowl, which was placed by papal fiat on the high altar during the final Synod Mass.[viii]
Finally, the next paragraph of the Catechism, n. 2113, speaks of “idolatry” in quite general terms as being constituted by falsos paganismi cultus (“false pagan worship”). Since the Pachamama religious rites carried out in Rome were clearly not monotheistic (i.e., Christian, Jewish, or Muslim), it follows that they were pagan. The fact that Jesus, Mary, or a Christian saint or two are venerated alongside traditional tribal divinities, which is technically known as “syncretism,” would not stop such cults from being pagan. Hindus and some other pagans are often happy enough to include Jesus as one god among others in their various pantheons, as indeed the ancient Romans were willing to do.
Stephen Mosher, famous for his decades-long work exposing the evils of China’s policies on abortion and their violent treatment of the Catholic Church, adds these important details:
The ritual [on October 4] was presented as a “tree-planting ceremony” celebrating St. Francis of Assisi’s love of nature, but this was just a smokescreen. During the course of the ritual, Pope Francis received and blessed a Pachamama idol and was given a pagan necklace, an offering of soil to Pachamama, and a Tucum ring. The Tucum ring is a black wooden ring made from an Amazonian palm tree. It is often taken to symbolize a commitment to Liberation Theology, a Marxist distortion of the Faith that emphasizes liberation from poverty over liberation from sin. But in shamanistic Pachamama rituals, such as the one conducted in the Vatican gardens, it has a deeper and darker meaning. Here, a gourd rattle and occult spells were used to direct demonic energy to the Tucum, which comes to represent a spiritual marriage with the “earth goddess” (or, in fact, demon, since as Scripture teaches, “all the gods of the nations are demons”). In the Vatican News video recording the ritual, the shamaness can be seen empowering the Tucum with occult spells and her gourd rattle beginning at the 11-minute mark. She then approaches the pope and puts the black ring on what appears to be the ring finger of his left hand at just before the 13-minute mark.[ix]
Mosher’s report grows darker still when he discusses the significance of the bowl of soil with several plants bearing red flowers that was carried into the closing Synod Mass by a woman in Amazonian tribal dress.[x] It is customary in South America to mix the soil in such an offering bowl with the blood of a sacrificed animal or, in older times, blood of sacrificed children.[xi] Mosher continues:
Such a Pachamama offering is intended as an act of reparation to the “earth goddess” for the “sins” that human beings have committed against “her” by taking from “her” the fruits of the earth—animal, vegetable, and mineral. In other words, it is the exact pagan imitation of the body and blood of Jesus Christ that are daily offered up on the altars of hundreds of thousands of churches during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in reparation for the sins of the world. Such a pagan Pachamama offering has no place in a Catholic church, and yet not only was it brought into St. Peter’s at the very head of the procession, but it was placed on the high altar itself.
Placing anything extraneous on the altar like this is forbidden by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that governs the Novus Ordo. Evidently, the Successor of Peter was very intent that the soil offering be placed upon the altar above the tomb of St. Peter.
All of this has nothing to do with so-called “inculturation”; it is syncretism, the deliberate blending of pagan and Christian worship, which has been fought against by the Church and her missionaries for twenty centuries. Missionaries do not take a pagan idol and dress it up like the Blessed Virgin Mary; they tend rather to burn and destroy idols, as we frequently read about in the lives of the saints.
At one point a Vatican talking head said that there was “no idolatrous intention” in the prostration before an Amazonian idol. A key author of the Synod’s working document, Fr. Paulo Suess, said it doesn’t matter if a pagan rite took place, because it would still be the worship of God.[xii] There you have it: the apotheosis of the view that externals don’t matter! It literally doesn’t matter if you are bowing before a pagan statue, so long as your intention is good and vaguely religious. A Catholic blogger, Father Angelo Sotelo, stated: “There’s been no comment or assertion from the Amazonians that they intended to adore an idol. Only when people state that they are intending to commit the sin of idolatry should they be accused of that in public.” On this, Fr. Brian Harrison comments:
Is it not obvious that setting the bar that high for the sin of idolatry would define this offence against the First Commandment out of existence! (We could thus rid the world of idolaters by the stroke of a pen, just as some seek to reduce sexual abuse of minors overnight by simply lowering the legal age of consent, thereby redefining “minor.”) What idolater has ever “stated that [he/she was] intending to commit the sin of idolatry”?
Brian McCall, editor of Catholic Family News, points out:
If the mere lack of idolatrous intent makes bowing before a pagan statue unobjectionable, then thousands of early Christian martyrs died in vain. All they needed to do is go through the actions of offering a pinch of incense to pagan gods but with the intent of saving their lives and not with the intent of false worship. Suggesting that to any Christian worth his salt in the first three centuries would have earned laughter, if not something more painful. This is basic moral theology: while a bad intention can make a good action morally wrong, the converse is not true: a good intention cannot transform an objectively evil action—in this case, worship offered to an image of a false god—into something objectively good. This is an old Modernist trick they used with dogma. As St. Pius X points out in Pascendi, when the Modernists are caught saying something contrary to the Faith, they reply: But I didn’t mean it in that way.
This brings me to my next point. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that no idolatry actually took place at the Vatican in October. This hypothesis would not make the slightest difference in the judgment that must be passed on the events. Scripture teaches that we are to avoid not only evil actions, but also the appearance of evil—any actions that may reasonably cause scandal to others. St. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 8 that even if a certain idol is “nothing,” we would need to refrain from eating meat sacrificed to it if there was any danger of leading a brother astray. I recently completed a diocesan “safe environment training course,” which kept insisting on the principle that we must take into account not only what we do, but the appearance to others of what we do, the perceptions that may arise in others’ minds. The slogan was: “Intent is not relevant; impact is what matters.”
Obviously, we can’t avoid all misinterpretation of our actions and motives. But we can avoid things that are likely to look bad to most people or that might, at a given point in time, be especially likely to be perceived as bad. Let me offer an example. If a married man and one of his female colleagues from work have to go on a business trip together, it would be sinful for them to share a hotel room or a hotel suite, even if there were separate beds or bedrooms. People who got wind of it might jump to false conclusions based on a realistic notion of fallen human nature. So, too, with the Pachamama affair. Carrying in procession and bowing down before the image of a naked woman with a bulging belly, prominent breasts, face paint, and a savage expression, an image that does not look in any way Christian, unquestionably gives the appearance of idolatry, and when there is a well-known pagan cult of Pachamama in parts of South America, the picture is complete. It does not matter whether anyone intended idolatry; it is enough that the appearance was manifestly given, and the perception of it widespread. Sadly, we know that one of the favorite tactics of Protestant preachers in South America is to accuse the Catholic Church of idolatry, and the Amazon Synod has just provided them with a lifetime supply of new ammunition for their proselytizing efforts.[xiii]
There are other indications we are dealing with syncretistic idolatry. On September 1 in the Cathedral of Lima, Peru, a Mass was opened with the hymn: “Mother Earth, Pachamama, we’ve come to sing to you.” The celebrant of Mass was the Pope Francis-appointed Archbishop Carlos Gustavo Castillo Mattasoglio. The hymn includes these words: “Pachamama, good mother, destroyed, without love, with your soil mistreated, and rivers muddy already, there are no more forests, there are cities with cement and solitude. Forgive me, Mother, for my carelessness, Mother Earth, I must convert.”[xiv] Moreover, a group connected with the Italian Bishops’ Conference, even before the Synod, published an Incan prayer to Pachamama that reads (in part):
Pachamama of these places,
drink and eat this offering at will,
so that this land may be fruitful.
Pachamama, good mother
Be propitious! Be propitious! . . .
We ask you from you:
give us everything.
Be propitious! Be propitious![xv]
Bishop Erwin Kräutler, a key figure in the Synod, stated on October 30 that the Pachamama statues were “a form of expression of the indigenous people,” which could be “integrated into our [Catholic] liturgy. And if it is for many a divinity, then it is an attack upon the soul of a people to throw them into the Tiber.”[xvi] This is an astonishing pair of statements, for while admitting that many still perceive and treat Pachamama as a divinity, he nonetheless advocates integrating it into the proposed Amazonian rite of Mass as a valuable symbol. I don’t know whether to marvel more at the blasphemy or at the sheer intellectual incoherence. Symbols matter; they mean something. Symbols are not haphazard things that can be interpreted any which way we want.
Should we be surprised that all this is happening? In a way, yes, and in a way, no. We are reaping the rotten fruit of fifty years of Karl Rahner’s theory of the “anonymous Christian,” the nouvelle théologie’s conflation of the natural and supernatural orders, liberation theology’s idea of the world as divine revelation and of secular society and human culture as equal or superior to the Church, and many other popular postconciliar errors, including what Fr. Serafino Lanzetta calls “eco-religion.”[xvii] Another commentator notes:
The Instrumentum Laboris for the Amazonian Synod promoted the so called “teología india” as a means to enrich Catholic theology, starting with the introduction of a dual notion of God, male and female at the same time (God-father and God-mother, where the “mother” would be mother-nature, in a sort of cosmic sense—Pachamama). This dual deity is to be honoured by introducing ancient Meso-american and South-american rites into the liturgical rites of the Catholic Church.
This brings me to the second theme of my talk: inculturation.
In recent decades, there has been a great confusion about the concept of inculturation. We can see this confusion rising again to the surface with in the notorious Instrumentum laboris or working document that was released prior to the Amazon Synod and criticized by bishops and theologians across the world.[xviii]
Inculturation has been taken by its modern proponents to mean that the Catholic faith and its practice should be changed to conform to an indigenous culture, and should assimilate that culture’s own religious beliefs and practices. In other words, Catholicism is seen as raw material and the alien culture as an agent of transformation. The Instrumentum laboris tells us, for example: “In function of a ‘healthy decentralization’ of the Church (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 16), the [Amazonian] communities ask the Episcopal Conferences to adapt the Eucharistic ritual to their cultures” (126d). And citing Francis again: “We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings” (IL 124). The document continues with a strangely authoritarian passage, culminating in Marxist utopian language:
The celebration of the faith must be carried out in an inculturated way so that it may be an expression of one’s own religious experience and a bond of communion in the celebrating community. An inculturated liturgy will also be a sounding board for the struggles and aspirations of the communities and a transforming impulse towards a “land without evil.” (125)
How will such liturgies look? The document tells us:
It is suggested that the celebrations should be festive, with their own music and dances, using indigenous languages and clothing, in communion with nature and with the community. … We are asked to overcome the rigidity of a discipline that excludes and alienates, and practice a pastoral sensitivity that accompanies and integrates.
The language of “communion with nature and with the community” is naturalistic and horizontal, at loggerheads with the supernatural and vertical character of the revealed religion of Christ and its cultic action: the formal, objective, solemn, public worship known as the sacred liturgy. We note also a radical departure from the unanimous teaching of all the popes, including John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who underlined, with Vatican II, that the traditional music of the Faith, Gregorian chant and polyphony, should be given the foremost place—as indeed the first missionaries who planted the Cross on the soil of South America themselves did, training natives to be musicians and composers of superb quality.
The “inculturation” described in the working document and reiterated in the Synod’s final document is a false approach, rooted in religious indifferentism, dogmatic relativism, and liturgical experimentalism. Ironically, if acted upon, this approach would not inspire new currents of culture in the Amazon, but merely colonize non-Europeans with the modern European angst of ex-Christian self-loathing—a hatred directed uniquely at Europe’s own past and the Church’s own traditions.
In reality, it is pagan cultures that are in need of conversion and elevation. Any elements taken from these cultures, duly purged of sin and error, will stand as matter to the “form” imparted by the life-giving Catholic Faith. It is the Church that is the agent, form, and goal in any true inculturation, while the recipient culture is the matter that receives the form from the agent for the sake of salvation in Christ.[xix] Many cultures benefited from the Roman Missal in its integrity and fullness. The Japanese and Chinese initially welcomed the beauty and majesty of the traditional Latin liturgy as celebrated by the missionaries, seeing in it a sublime expression of a divinely-revealed religion, powerfully conveyed in ceremonies and texts. Hostile cultures have been overcome by the persistent witness of a religion more definite, more coherent, and more beautiful than any of fallen mankind’s false religions.
In any case, it is never necessary to seek, as a goal, to take elements of a heathen culture and incorporate them into the sacred culture. If there are elements worthy of elevation into the sacral domain, this will happen slowly, subtly, with discernment. Running after these elements in a kind of desperate hunt for relevancy is doomed to failure; it is a kind of prostitution to the present age and its malevolent prince. A so-called “Amazonian rite,” manufactured by committee and imposed by episcopal fiat, is contrary to the laws of organic liturgical development and the primacy of the Gospel over all cultures to which it arrives. Inculturation as it has been understood and practiced by liturgical revolutionaries is one more ploy of Satan to destabilize and denature the Church of God, to water down her distinctiveness, to poison and pollute her divine cultus and human culture.
Things that are really true, good, and beautiful in a native people and their civilization will line up in front of the doors of the church and beg admission; they will sue for peace, and beg pardon, and offer themselves like lambs for the sacrifice. Then we may take them up in our arms and make of them vehicles of grace. But not in any other way. As St. Augustine says: “He that believes not, is truly demoniac, blind, and dumb; and he that has not understanding of the faith, nor confesses, nor gives praise to God, is subject to the devil.” The Church does not go to the blind and dumb to ask for advice on how she should worship or what she should believe; she does not go to subjects of the devil, in desperate need of baptism, and beg them for a seat at Belial’s table. The great Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries brought forward the Catholic faith in all the splendor of its abiding truth, and by that light, they converted nations and baptized all that was noble and good in their people.
The Instrumentum laboris, however, bluntly sets aside traditional views of evangelization, salvation, and sanctification:
An insincere stance of openness to the other, as well as a corporatist attitude, which reserves salvation exclusively to one’s own creed, is destructive of the same creed. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explained this to the inquiring lawyer. Love lived in any religion pleases God. “Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.”
In this remarkable text, Christians are said to be “insincere” if they are not so “open to the other” that they will admit that their Christianity is lacking some truth or goodness that the non-Christians can offer instead. Moreover, the de fide dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, outside the Church there is no salvation, is dismissed as a “corporatist attitude” destructive of one’s own creed, in spite of the fact that no one can be saved who does not belong to the Church and who does not confess, either explicitly or implicitly, that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. The document then fatuously asserts that “love lived in any religion pleases God,” although the New Testament makes it clear that only the love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which we call charity, is the love of God that pleases Him.
Perhaps the most startling error in the Instrumentum laboris and in the Synod discussions is the idea of the world as a more complete divine revelation than that found in the lex orandi and lex credendi of Christianity:
In the Amazon, life is inserted into, linked with, and integrated in territory. This vital and nourishing physical space provides the possibility, sustenance, and limit of life. Furthermore, we can say that the Amazon—or another indigenous or communal territory—is not only an ubi or a where (a geographical space), but also a quid or a what, a place of meaning for faith or the experience of God in history. Thus territory is a theological place where faith is lived, and also a particular source of God’s revelation: epiphanic places where the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifest, a life and wisdom that speaks of God. In the Amazon, the “caresses of God” become manifest and become incarnate in history (cf. LS 84, “Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God”).[xx]
In an interview with Ross Douthat published on November 9, Raymond Cardinal Burke observes:
What was proposed in the working document . . . is an apostasy from the Catholic faith. A denial of the unicity and universality of the redemptive incarnation of our Lord Jesus’ saving work. . . . I mean the idea that Jesus’ grace is one element in the cosmos—but it’s the cosmos, the world, that is the ultimate revelation. And therefore, even in going to a region like the pan-Amazon region, you wouldn’t be concerned to preach the gospel because you recognize there already the revelation of God. This is a falling away from the Christian faith.[xxi]
I view the Synod as representing the repudiation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address, in which he explained why the program of “dehellenization” is contrary to the wisdom and Providence of God.[xxii] The call for dehellenization is based on the claim that a “pure” original form of Christianity was compromised or even perverted by the intertwining of Greek culture and philosophical thought with the original kerygma or proclamation of the Good News. The program can be traced back to the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century who argued that after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, Christianity, which was intended to be a domestic, familial religion of breaking bread and giving thanks for the holiness of everyday life, was distorted into an imperial, sacerdotal, hierarchical, patriarchal, dogmatic religion that eventually exalted asceticism, monasticism, and strict sexual morality.
The dehellenizers want to remove Christianity from its Jewish, Greek, Roman, and European cultural matrix and to “Africanize” or “Asianize” or “Amazonify” it. They want to make it a vehicle for the divine self-expression inherent in every people and culture, which of course is not what anyone ever thought the Christian faith was or was supposed to be. Our religion comes to us from God decisively intervening in human history and giving us the message of salvation, to which every culture, like every individual, must bend the knee in a process of conversion. It is man who must submit to the truth from on high—submit in faith, in baptism, in ecclesial order, in liturgy. It is not the truth that must submit to man and reflect his inner aspirations or feelings or ideas. This latter view was espoused by the Modernists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and by their latter-day disciples, including Pope Francis. We should not be surprised that he has espoused so many heresies, dozens of them: for Modernism itself was defined by St. Pius X as “the synthesis of all heresies.”[xxiii]
Thus we can see the Amazon Synod as a moment of accelerated dechristianization, an inversion and perversion of the Catholic religion.
Also much in the news for many months has been the subtle attack of the Modernists against the ancient discipline of clerical celibacy. It is important to understand that this attack has nothing to do with a shortage of clergy. There has always been a shortage of clergy in missionary territories, but no one prior to our decadent age has ever thought that abolishing celibacy was the right solution. Rather, the Church has obeyed Christ by redoubling her prayers to the Lord of the harvest, asking Him to send more workers into the vineyard, and by purifying herself of corruption so that she may be found worthy of having her prayers answered.
We also know, as Bishop Athanasius Schneider says in his outstanding book Chrisus Vincit, that there have been heroic Christians in all ages who have persevered in spite of sacramental deprivation, because they had been taught the Faith and they remained true to it. He cites especially the example of Japanese Catholics who held on to the orthodox faith for more than 200 years without clergy or recourse to any sacraments besides baptism. When French missionaries reestablished contact with these Christians, they “were amazed to find that they knew the Apostles’ Creed and many prayers, including the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the [other prayers of the] rosary, in both Japanese and Latin.”[xxiv] Frankly, this is a better track record than the local churches in almost any country after the Second Vatican Council, in spite of a comparative abundance of bishops and priests. So, in order to understand the attack against mandatory celibacy, we must look deeper than the excuses of its proponents.
The devil hates priestly celibacy because, like consecrated virginity, it is a charism and way of life most intrinsically opposed to the pride that brought about Lucifer’s fall. The devil desired to receive beatitude as a reward for his own natural greatness, not as a pure gift of grace undeserved by any creature. He desired to be the “firstborn son” who received the homage of inferior creation—perhaps even to be a mediator between the human race and its Creator. When God revealed that He would enter into friendship with rational animals (so vastly inferior to the angels) and grant them beatitude; that his own Word would become flesh; that this Word-made-flesh would raise up the human race by suffering and dying for it—Lucifer would have none of it. His love of self turned inward. In his pride, he said: Non serviam, I will not serve God, I will not serve such a God, I will not serve such a plan. Lucifer rejected the supernatural in favor of the natural.
The man or woman who chooses virginity or celibacy for the kingdom of God is doing the opposite: setting aside the natural in favor of the supernatural. The virgin or celibate is relinquishing that which is most natural to the human being—to live in partnership with another of the opposite sex, finding in this community a friendship and fruitfulness intended for man from the beginning, written into his very bodily nature. Just as nothing is more natural to man than marriage, nothing is more suitable to expressing the primacy of God over creation than relinquishing it for His sake, in a supreme testimony to the sufficiency of His love, a offering of one’s entire self to Him in love. The life of a celibate is a holocaust in imitation of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who gave all of Himself to His bride, the Church. As the Word became flesh for our sakes, the consecrated soul makes of his or her own flesh a living word of total consent and surrender to God. The celibate is the supreme human sign of God’s radically self-emptying redemptive love—and thus the complete antithesis of Lucifer’s self-absorption.
Now, as the saints pray without ceasing and generate prayer in others, so the devil, who is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), lies without ceasing, and fathers ever more lies in his victims. He persuades people to think that celibacy or virginity is a denigration of marriage, that those who promote this higher state and calling are casting aspersions on the order of creation, the goodness of nature, the beauty of married love. He presents himself, at times, as a defender of these things, but only in a distorted way, as Martin Luther was. The devil wants the exclusive commitment of priests and religious to the Lord and His people to be diluted or abandoned, so that, stripped of the clothing of grace, they can follow him to the emptiness and frustration of eternally denuded nature. Most of all, he sows the lie that man cannot be fulfilled apart from sexual experience and expression—that humans are maimed and impoverished if they do not enjoy intimate conjunction with another.
How subtle the strategy of Satan is! The ultimate poverty for man is, in reality, to live without God, to live without knowledge of or desire for eternal communion with Him in heaven. Since the priesthood and the religious life are both directly ordered to living out and proclaiming the reality and primacy of the Kingdom of Heaven, it is crucial for the well-being of mankind that priests and religious be clear signs of our ultimate destiny—for in heaven, as Our Lord teaches, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. The one all-sufficient marriage in heaven is the perfect union of Christ and His Church.
The devil’s strategy is multifaceted. He works to undermine the covenant of marriage, which is the sacramental sign of the indissoluble, fruitful union of Christ and His Church. The contemporary war against marriage is also, indeed more deeply, a war against the nuptial union of Christ and the Church—a vain but frenzied effort to erase from the minds of men any memory of this glorious union consummated on the Cross. Satan works to undermine the Most Holy Eucharist, which is the sign and cause of our communion with Christ, our highest sharing in His self-oblation on the Cross. He works to undermine the priesthood and religious life, which exemplify and bring about in this world the ordering of all creation, through Christ, to the Father, who is the beginning and end of all things. The common element in all of these attacks is the devil’s fury that anyone or anything natural should ever be subordinated to that which is supernatural—that a faithful, radical self-sacrifice should be the path of salvation and blessedness.
False teachings on marriage and the “relaxation” of the required discipline of clerical celibacy are two flanks of a single army laying siege to the City of God on earth. Any word, any action against the sanctity of marriage, the good of the family, or the exalted vocations of clerical and religious life finds its origin in the General of this army, whom St. Ignatius of Loyola called “the Enemy of mankind.”
I wish now to confront head-on the claim that both Modernists and Eastern Christians will often make (although for quite different reasons), namely, that clerical celibacy is “just a disciplinary matter,” something that depends only on Church authority and could be easily changed. This is not true. Celibacy is one of the crown jewels of Latin Christianity; the roots of it are found in many passages of the New Testament and confirmed by abundant testimonies from the Church Fathers.
Marriage is not absolutely incompatible with holy orders, since the power of order is a supernatural gift that may be conferred on any apt man by the laying on of hands. However, marriage is relatively incompatible with holy orders, which explains why from apostolic times on, there is a steady effort to enforce perpetual continence among the clergy. The Christian East bears witness to this connection in three ways: first, they hold monastic or consecrated life as the highest vocation; second, bishops may be chosen only from celibates; and third, even married clergy must abstain from marital relations the day before the offering of the Divine Liturgy, which is one of the reasons why a daily Eucharistic liturgy is rare in the East outside of monasteries or cathedrals.
In truth, celibacy is profoundly fitting to the clerical state; and fittingness, in the Catholic tradition, is often the highest and strongest argument for what we believe and what we do. For example, we say that it was fitting that the Son of God empty Himself of the radiance of glory and become a lowly man in the likeness of sinful human flesh; we say that it was fitting that he should die upon the Cross in atonement for our sins; we say that it was fitting for Christ to found a visible Church with visible and efficacious signs of grace. For these sublime truths, there are no strictly necessary arguments; there are only arguments from how beautiful it is that God should be this way or act this way. In short, the greatest mysteries of our Faith are said to be true because we can see that they harmonize with who God is and how He works. It is no different with celibacy: it is fitting that the one who follows the virginal Christ who gave His entire life as a pleasing offering to God should imitate Him in exactly this way.
The Amazon Synod’s recommendation, therefore, strikes at the Catholic Church’s imitatio Christi, her adherence to biblical teaching and patristic witness, and her fidelity to a consistent Magisterium from the earliest times until now. This novelty of the Synod must be rejected without qualification.
Ministries for Women
All traditional Eucharistic liturgies, whether of the Christian East or of the Christian West, are hierarchically structured: the roles of bishop, priest, deacon, subdeacon, lector, acolyte, and so forth are clearly delineated. Only men serve in these roles, since they are all modes of exercising Christ’s royal priesthood in the flesh.[xxv] The faithful in attendance also have their role, which is not to be confused with the roles of any of the ministers. Moreover, all traditional liturgies are designed for and make expressive use of buildings in which the sanctuary, representing the Holy of Holies and the Church Triumphant, is clearly separated from the nave, representing this world and the Church Militant. Only certain individuals, correctly vested, may enter into the sanctuary during the liturgy. Christian theology is thus articulated in the architecture itself, especially through the use of barriers, doors, and images of saints.
There are scattered indications throughout Church history of an office that was known as “deaconess.” Sometimes this term meant a deacon’s wife; at other times, it means widows who received a special blessing for their pastoral work. They are mentioned in Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom, among others. Their purpose was to assist with the pastoral care of women: women being baptized by full immersion; uncatechized women needing instruction or sick women needing visitation. They apparently served at times as ushers. In the Western church, however, they became less and less needed as baptism moved away from full immersion and society became more generally Christian. They appear less and less in historical records until they vanish from sight around the start of the second millennium.
What is clear is that deaconesses never exercised a properly liturgical ministry—one involved with the administration of the sacraments, especially the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Thus, to talk today of “deacons” and “deaconesses” in the same breath is simply to equivocate, like speaking of the canons of a cathedral and the Roman Canon. The word in Greek simply means “servant,” and surely, both men and women were serving in various capacities. But just as the practice of giving communion in the hand died out over a thousand years ago, so did the practice of employing deaconesses; and it is one more example of false antiquarianism to try to bring them back in a totally different context.
It is unquestionably the introduction of the Novus Ordo, which was itself a product of false antiquarianism, that has created the current push for women’s liturgical ministries.[xxvi] The new rite of Mass is horizontal and democratic in its manner of practice: the hierarchical offices are either canceled out or confused, the distinction between clergy and laity is blurred, the roles of men and women are mingled in a way only imaginable after the Sexual Revolution, and instead of the verticality of simultaneous action directed to God, there is linear, modular, sequential liturgy in service of audience-oriented rationalism. The symbolism of separation and articulation inside the church building is not respected by the rite or its rubrics. In such an environment, there is no convincing reason to exclude women from ministries, because the entire concept of liturgy has been disconnected from tradition, homogenized, and harnessed to utilitarian and social functions, not symbolic and theological ones.
There are some functions for which any Catholic can substitute in a pinch, such as making responses from the pews at Mass if a proper acolyte or a vested male altar server is not present. But we can say with historical and theological certainty that there are certain offices that can be conferred upon and exercised by men alone. The diaconate that is part of Holy Orders is one such office, as the Magisterium has always held—a teaching supported by a mountain of scholarship and two independent Vatican studies.
It is surely not unreasonable to think that the demons tacitly invoked throughout the Synod, before it, and after it were assiduously at work to push forward the ecclesiastical Sexual Revolution consisting in the ever-greater confusion or denial of the male and female sexes and the denigration of the gift of perpetual continence. In this way the Vatican regime sets itself against both creation at the beginning, represented by the procreative duality of sexes, and re-creation in Christ, represented by the Virgin Birth and virginal High Priest.
Looking back over this disastrous Amazon Synod, from which we will be suffering radioactive fallout for many years, the question arises: What can we do in these circumstances? What are we supposed to do? The answer is simply this: we must counteract the apostasy in the Church by adoring the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as devoutly and fervently as we can; we must hold fast to the one and only Catholic Faith received from tradition, and never abandon it under any pressures or threats whatsoever. We should increase our Mass attendance and rosaries; renew our consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary; do penance and make reparation, especially by fasting and going to Eucharistic Adoration. When the apostles could not cast out a certain demon, the Lord said to them: “This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21). Are we not confronting the work of demons—no longer acting in secret, but openly?
We have to approach the state of the Church today with Christian realism. This is a realism that recognizes the way things really are, judging from obvious signs of the times.
The Gospel of John says of Judas: “He therefore having received the morsel, went out immediately. And it was night” (Jn 13:30). Not long after, Our Lord said to His enemies in the Garden of Gethsemane: “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk 22:53). For us, it is night; it is the hour of the Judases, the high priests, scribes, and soldiers of the temple; the power of darkness reigns.
But Christian realism is also supernatural realism, one that is shot through with hope and confidence. We recognize that God Himself has permitted this darkness, since nothing escapes His will, and that He is and always will be in charge, as Christ while sleeping in the boat remained in charge of the storm. When God permits evil, He does so in order to raise up saints and to expose the works of darkness for their ugliness. As long as any convenient compromise between the Church and the world remains hidden, it endures; but when the ugliness of this compromise becomes visible, then its doom is upon it. Every period of crisis in the history of the Church has yielded to a subsequent period of peace and light, thanks to the trustful prayers and strenuous efforts of the saints. Such periods of peace and light are and will always be relative and temporary in this vale of tears; “we have here no abiding city but we seek one that is to come” (Heb 13:14).
Fr. Zuhlsdorf issued this rousing call to arms, which I want to share with you:
We are in The Fight of Our Lives. … [B]attle isn’t pretty. Just as a soldier in the state of grace who does his duty knows that even in battle he is in the “safest” place he can be, so too we know that we members of the Church in the state of grace are in the safest place we could be, even though corruption and infidelity and disgusting things are going on at every level. Since the Church is of divine origin, there is no place else we should ever want to be. We can be sad sometimes at the results of the battle. We can be afraid sometimes in the midst of the battle. But let us not waiver in our trust in Christ’s promises. Heaven is our reward, not worldly security, even in the Church. The Lord is my strength and shield and my trusting heart exults in Him and with song I will give Him thanks even for the terrible battle it falls to me to fight … Moreover, Rome is only Rome. The “Vatican” is only the Vatican. Curial structures are not of divine origin. Christ promised nothing to the Roman Curia. He made no guarantees that the Faith would be preserved in the Curia. “Put not your trust in princes: In the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.” Stick to the true and the proven. Stick to traditional sources for the review of the content of your Catholic Faith. Remember too that the content of your Faith is not just stuff to be read and memorized, but is also a Person with whom you have a relationship. Stick to Christ. Use the sacraments well. Review your own state in life and, having determined your duties and obligations, carry them out faithfully and with singularity of purpose.[xxvii]
Supernatural realism also recognizes that the Church on earth is only the outer shell, so to speak, of the Mystical Body of Christ. Understandably, we are caught up in what is happening around us on earth, but we must never forget that the Church triumphant in heaven is far greater than the Church militant on earth. It is populated with countless angels and saints, all of whom have passed beyond the trials of this world to an eternal blessedness that can never be lost. The heavenly liturgy is indescribably glorious and beautiful, the friendships of the saints overflowing with joy. Nothing and no one can touch this Kingdom of God, this kingdom of unending peace and never-darkening light, where Christ the King reigns as absolute monarch over perfectly free and willing subjects. This is the Catholic Church, first and foremost. We on earth are united to it by our baptism, and if we remain faithful, we will find ourselves there after death, no matter what happens in this messy world. To me, this is a great consolation, because it helps me to think twice before I say something like: “the Church is crumbling before our eyes” or “the Church is being destroyed.” No. Parts of the Church on earth are apostatizing, because those who still live in this mortal life can change for the worse; but the Church of Christ in its now-existing perfection is immortal, spotless, beyond the reach of sin or the devil—and we are members of that same Church, sustained by its prayers, enveloped in its grace, drawn onward by its glory. The gates of hell cannot prevail.
[i] https://catholicism.org/ad-rem-no-354.html; he also provides links to back up each of these claims. See also https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2019/10/the-amazon-synod-is-a-sign-of-the-times.
[iii] In the next several paragraphs I am relying on the argumentation provided by Fr. Brian Harrison, whose help I gratefully acknowledge.
[iv] The foregoing information is from Catholic News Agency journalist Hannah Brockhaus, whose report is reproduced in the National Catholic Register, October 27-November 9, 2019, p. 7, under the heading, “Vatican Official: Carved Figure at Amazon Synod Is Not the Virgin Mary”.
[v] A canon lawyer has pointed out that, since, according to a verse in the Psalms, “all the gods of the gentiles are demons,” it follows that simply displaying pagan idols and offerings is a tacit invocation of demons. For this reason, Fr. Zuhlsdorf is surely right to say that much of the Vatican requires exorcism at this point. “The real scandal here is that Pope Francis is implicitly asserting in yesterday’s statement that pagan idols can be exposed in a place of honor in a Catholic Church, provided that they are displayed ‘without idolatrous intentions‘, or even worse, that it is possible to split such a display of manifestly pagan idols in a place of honor in a Catholic Church from the tacit invocation of demons that they per se constitute.” https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/swiss-bishop-it-is-a-scandal-that-the-pope-defends-those-rituals-inside-the-vatican-gardens
[vi] She herself made clear that the rituals were for Mother Earth and Creator Father: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/female-indigenous-leader-reveals-pagan-significance-of-tree-planting-ceremony-in-vatican-gardens.
[vii] Officials at the Synod clearly stated: “We have already repeated several times here that those statues represented life, fertility, mother earth.” https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2019-10/ruffini-vatican-prefect-on-theft-of-statues-in-rome.html. But Catholics do not bow to representations of life, fertility, and mother earth, nor carry them in procession. We carry Our Lord, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, in procession on Corpus Christi; we carry Our Lady—unambiguously depicted as the Virgin Mary, Mother of God—in procession, to honor specifically her and her role in salvation history.
[ix] https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/all-catholics-must-act-to-atone-for-vatican-idolatry-during-amazon-synod. Another critic wrote to me in an email: “It is the inclusion of darkness into the light of Christ, and that in a formal way. It is the old occultist view that God needs evil to fulfills himself, that light and darkness belong together, that Lucifer gains back his position that he lost in Paradise.”
[x] This closing Mass fell on the “Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time” in the new calendar, but the traditional feast of Christ the King in the old.
[xi] As Paolo Pasqualucci writes in a private correspondence: “By the way, in the past, also human sacrifices were offered to the deities representing vegetation, fertility, etc (Pachamama for the Inca, Toci for the Aztechs etc) because they embodied the terrible forces of nature, that had to be continuosly placated by the offerings of animal and especially human flesh to their idols. But this aspect of these ancient cults is of course kept completely hidden, nowadays. Last August more than 200 mummies of children and boys and girls, between 4 and 14 years were accidentally found in a coastal town near Lima, victims of sacrifices to avert hurricanes.”
[xiii] Pope Francis and his cronies will have to answer before God for many thousands of defections from the Church that will have resulted from the Amazon Synod alone. As Bishop Schneider said: “In front of the eyes of the entire world, and in the presence of the Pope, there were conducted clear acts of religious adoration of symbols and statues of the pagan, indigenous, South-American religions, the so-called ‘Pachamama.’ Such conduct of the highest Church authority, which does not only not forbid the symbols of pagan religions and their worship, but, rather, even justifies them, causes a great damage for the salvation of souls, because thereby the First Commandment is being undermined and in practical terms is being rescinded.” See https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/vatican-communications-chief-denies-amazon-synod-guests-prostrated-themselves-before-wooden-statues.
[xiv] All this is available in video and audio online: see “Demon Pachamama Adored in Lima Cathedral,” published October 30 at Gloria.TV (https://gloria.tv/post/bBDJDeUy9EP94S9ZH3wkHSzPM). Fr. Mitch Pacwa, in a widely-viewed program on EWTN, mentions from his firsthand experience in Peru that there are Peruvians in the mountains who venerate and make offerings to Pachamama. See “Scripture and Tradition with Fr. Mitch Pacwa,” November 5, 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pea6aaSS8sw).
[xvii] He writes: “It was clear from the beginning that the Amazon Synod would present a new eco-religion linked to the Earth—Mother Earth, a symbol of pronounced femininity and a source of inspiration and prophecy for our time which would give the Church its ‘true’ face, an ‘Amazonian’ face. It was a face that was revealed, in fact, in the carved fertility fetish.” https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/why-catholics-honoring-pachamama-is-a-result-of-apostasy
[xviii] Unofficial English translation here: https://www.scribd.com/document/413858828/Unofficial-English-Translation-of-Pan-Amazonian-Synod-Instrumentum-Laboris Here is the official source: http://www.sinodoamazonico.va/content/sinodoamazonico/en/documents/pan-amazon-synod–the-working-document-for-the-synod-of-bishops.html.
[xix] This, in sharp contrast to the attitude of Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes—the pope’s “good friend” who inspired his historic choice of name—who stated: “[The expression] ‘new paths for the Church’ also means deepening the process of inculturation and interculturality. And for this it is important that the original peoples make the church ‘their own’… thus the process of inculturation is up to them.” And again: “Being temporary” – and hence outsiders – the cardinal-designate added that “missionaries must accept a secondary role and give priority to the protagonism proper to the evangelized indigenous community.”]
[xx] Instrumentum laboris 19.
[xxii] Many other documents of the Magisterium have also opposed versions of this program, e.g., John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio and Paul VI in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei.
[xxiii] The Instrumentum laboris is a textbook example of Modernism, and another low-water mark during an already disgraced pontificate. For further commentary on this horrendous document, see Roberto de Mattei, “The Amazonian Church of Pope Francis” and Julia Meloni, “The Amazon Synod’s Long Game Is More Radical Than You Think.”
[xxv] That is, Christ is not a priest and a servant in His divinity, but according to His humanity.
[xxvi] Or even the priesthood—at least for those who, being functionally illiterate, cannot read Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. For the current confusion, we have Paul VI and John Paul II to blame, since the former abolished the minor orders and the latter permitted female altar servers.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America who taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism whose work appears online at, among others, OnePeterFive, New Liturgical Movement, LifeSiteNews, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News. He has published eleven books, including Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020) and The Holy Bread of Eternal Life: Restoring Eucharistic Reverence in an Age of Impiety (Sophia, 2020). Visit his website at www.peterkwasniewski.com.