SAN DIEGO -- The summit was in Rome, the focus was on the Amazon.
But for Bishop Robert McElroy, leader of San Diego's diocese and one of only three Americans among the 185 delegates to the Vatican's Pan-Amazon Synod, the issues hit close to home.
McElroy returned to San Diego to find traditionalists in an uproar. Along with most of the delegates, McElroy had backed a plan to allow married men to serve as priests in remote Amazonian villages. He also joined the majority in urging Pope Francis to consider ordaining female deacons -- throughout the global church.
"I am in favor of opening every office and position to women," he said, "unless it is doctrinally prohibited."
Count Thomas McKenna among those who believe that doctrine presents an insurmountable hurdle. Founder of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, a San Diego-based nonprofit, McKenna argued that women cannot be deacons, ordained ministers who can preach, baptize and conduct funerals. While unable to perform the priestly duties of celebrating the Mass and hearing confessions, they are seen as acting in persona Christi.
"Our Lord was a man," McKenna said. "How can a woman act in the person of Christ when she is not a man?"
McKenna also opposes ordaining married men in the Amazon basin, questioning why this exception wouldn't be made elsewhere.
"This isn't something new and unique," he said, noting that other parts of the globe have a shortage of priests. "Why is the Amazon such a special region? There is a political element in many of the churches in Europe, the Germans for one. They have a political agenda."
At first glance, the Pan-Amazon synod seemed to be a world away from San Diego. The gathering ended late last month with a 58-page report, decrying the deforestation and strip mining of a region that's larger than 18 Californias, touching on nine countries -- Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana -- and home to 2.5 million indigenous people.
The document, in fact, argues this area is unique, "a masterpiece of the creation of the God of Life. Its endless horizons of boundless beauty are a song, a hymn to the Creator."