By Alexander Tschugguel, (München, 18. Januar, Acies Ordinata)
“The Church must never become an NGO. Churches and parishes must go out into the public square if we are not to end up as an NGO”.
These are the words of Pope Francis on World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 - part of the famous speech in which he also exhorted young Catholics to “create a stir”.
The strategy to prevent the Church from becoming an NGO appears to include the projects discussed during last year’s Amazon Synod. NGOs are generally defined as large, internationally active, mostly left-wing associations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Open Society, Gaia-Amazonas Foundation or other organisations that advocate a leftist-liberal interpretation of human rights, no barriers to mass migration or the struggle against “man-made climate change”.
From today’s perspective, it is difficult to say whether there was actually, back in 2013, any threat of a development in the Church that could have made the Church indistinguishable from the aforementioned organisations. However, looking at the current strong political engagement of the Holy See, especially since the encyclical “Laudato Si”, it seems obvious that the Church has moved closer to, rather than distanced itself from, the left-leaning NGOs. Ever since the Amazon Synod, we are hearing more and more about a “New Church” with an “Amazonian face”.
On a superficial level, this Amazonian face is manifesting itself through actual or potential changes in the rites and in many aspects of practical church life. According to Bishop Krautler, for example, pagan elements should be integrated into the lives of Catholics in this region. According to media reports, an NGO known as the Gaia-Amazonas Foundation, headed by a German-Colombian, Martin von Hildebrandt, appears to have played a rather prominent role before and during the Amazon Synod.
Von Hildebrandt advocates an idea that has actually existed for decades: that the Amazon region should be removed from Brazilian sovereignty and placed under international administration. Among those promoting this idea were Francois Mitterand, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Major and Al Gore. According to British journalist Edward Pentin, it was feared, in the run-up to the Amazon Synod, that the Church might openly support this political project. Only after meeting with high- ranking representatives of the Brazilian government did Cardinal Claudio Hummes give the assurance that the Synod would make no statement on this matter.
Regarding the question of immigration from Africa and Asia, Pope Francis has adopted positions much closer to those of the NGOs (and the Merkel government and the German Bishops’ Conference) than to those of his predecessors.
This begs the question what the Pope could actually have meant by his statement that the Church should not become an NGO. The Church with the “Amazonian face” apparently focuses on propagating leftist “green” climate policy and glorifying pagan practices from South America, while frowning upon missionary activity.
The Pope recently confirmed this, telling Italian schoolchildren that the faith should not be proclaimed in words. But what is a church that no longer preaches, no longer obeys Christ's command to bring the gospel to all peoples? A church that limits itself to the political and social activities already mentioned? It is, to all intents and purposes, an NGO. The greatest proponents of this “Church with an Amazonian face”, which is increasingly taking on the characteristics of an NGO, seem to be the German bishops. Above all, the deputy chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Franz- Josef Bode, has repeatedly made it clear that the decisions taken at the Amazon Synod should also be implemented in Germany. The introduction of the synodal path will probably mean that this process will proceed very quickly in Germany. The German church is trying to take on a kind of pioneering role here.
A closer look at these developments will make it pretty obvious that the alleged problems in the Amazon region are only a pretext. The demands for abolishing celibacy and for the consecration of women have been heard in Germany for many decades, much more so here than in the Amazon region itself, where - as local surveys there have shown - most people actually find them incomprehensible.
Catholics represent a minority among Christians in the Amazon region - approximately 80% of Christians there are evangelical Protestants, not least because the Catholic Church there has essentially behaved like an NGO for decades and has neglected the Church’s mission mandate. Also, 80% of those Catholics live in cities with parish structures and an orderly church life. Additionally, several thousand priests from Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, etc. are working in North America. In other words, there would be alternative ways of solving the problem of a possible lack of priests in the few remote Catholic communities.
It seems the Amazon region is meant to serve as an experimental laboratory for liberal-modernist Catholics in the West, especially in Germany. We might well ask ourselves whether the new smile of the church with the “Amazonian” face is not simply a mask hiding the old face of the German Bishops’ Conference.
The solution to the Church’s crisis in Germany, South America and worldwide is much easier in theory, but much more difficult in practice, than the abolition of celibacy and the ordination of female priests. Much easier because all we need to do is to be faithful to the mission of Christ and the tradition of the Church; much more difficult because it requires every single Catholic to make personal sacrifices and to resist the errors of the current zeitgeist.
Throughout its two-thousand-year history, the Church has faced many challenges and has had to deal with many crises and deviations from the right path. It has only ever been able to renew itself by returning to the true teaching, and this time will be no different. It is for us to decide now how many wrong paths the Church must still go down, how much more must be destroyed before we can find our way back to the truth, to doctrine and tradition.