Since his 2013 election as Supreme Pontiff, papal biographers and experts have said that the key to understanding Pope Francis is a text produced by Latin American bishops in 2007, a pastoral vision and framework called the “Aparecida Document.”
In May 2007, bishops from across South and Latin America gathered in Aparecida, Brazil for a meeting of the Episcopal Council of Latin American Bishops – CELAM.
CELAM is a kind of confederation of bishops’ conferences from 22 countries, stretching from Mexico to the tip of South America. The organization was founded in 1955 to promote collaboration among bishops in South and Central America, and is similar to other confederations of bishops’ conferences in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The Aparecida meeting was called the Fifth General Conference of CELAM. Bishops talked together for 20 days about the Church’s mission and identity in a rapidly changing part of the world. And at the end, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was elected to head the drafting committee for the meeting’s final document. He became the text’s principal author.
Diego Fares, a board member of the semi-official Vatican journal La Civilta Cattolica, wrote in 2017 that Aparecida is the foundation for the approach and perspectives of the Francis pontificate.
And the pope himself has hearkened back to the document frequently during his pontificate. Four months after Pope Francis was elected, he said in Aparecida that the “Conference was a great moment of Church. It can truly be said that the Aparecida Document was born of this interplay between the labours of the Bishops and the simple faith of the pilgrims, under Mary’s maternal protection.”
As the bishops of the United States debate the question of Eucharistic coherence, there is often an unspoken implication, sometimes even said explicitly, that Pope Francis would oppose an admonishment on the subject, or a prohibition of Holy Communion for Catholic politicians supporting expanded legal protection or federal funding for abortion.
If Aperecida really captures the vision of the pontiff, then its text would seem to rebut that notion. The document is direct:
“We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia; that is their responsibility. Hence, in response to government laws and provisions that are unjust in the light of faith and reason, conscientious objection should be encouraged. We must adhere to ‘eucharistic coherence,’ that is, be conscious that they cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals.”
Of course, the bishops and pundits who oppose such a vision are likely to say that section of Aparecida doesn’t really reflect the vision of Pope Francis. But given the frequency with which those same voices have touted the text as the blueprint of his papacy, the burden of proof for an exception to that claim would seem to lie with those who are making it.
Eager to express unity with Pope Francis, and to heed the counsel of Cardinal Luis Ladaria to the USCCB — namely that the bishops look to other episcopal conferences while working on Eucharistic coherence — it is worth considering that at the June USCCB meeting, some bishops might propose that rather than develop their own text, the USCCB could simply formally adopt the statement of Aparecida — the statement from Francis’ own text — as their own.
Others might suggest that it be quoted in full in the relevant section of a USCCB text.
That move would be unlikely to play well among the bishops who have argued that such an exhortation would “weaponize the Eucharist” — especially since some of them have seemed to claim in the past the mantle of interpreting for their brothers Pope Francis’ vision for the Church.
But if the bishops will really engage in a substantive discussion in June about the notion of Eucharistic coherence for all Catholics — including Catholic politicians in public life — it seems unlikely that anyone wanting to uphold the magisterium of Pope Francis will let Aparecida be omitted from the conversation.