US archbishops Chaput and Cupich offer sharply different visions of Vatican synod

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Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich, shown with Pope Francis in Rome on Sept. 2, 2015, has called for tough gun control laws. Photo by Rich Kalonick

Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich, shown with Pope Francis in Rome on Sept. 2, 2015, has called for tough gun control laws. Photo by Rich Kalonick

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. during the Festival of Families announcement at the Pontifical North American College in Rome on June 23, 2015. Photo courtesy of Chris Warde-Jones, Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput during the Festival of Families announcement at the Pontifical North American College in Rome on June 23, 2015. Photo courtesy of Chris Warde-Jones, Archdiocese of Philadelphia

VATICAN CITY (RNS) As a major Vatican meeting on the church’s approach to sexuality and family life enters its decisive week, two top American archbishops offered contrasting views about what course the synod should take — providing a window into the dilemma facing the gathering, and a reminder of the divisions that could endure in the U.S. after the meeting ends.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Friday (Oct. 16), Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said “anxiety about the final product runs high” at the synod, where 270 churchmen from around the world are racing to synthesize their views into a concluding document they can give to Pope Francis.

The pontiff, who has been presiding over the often tense debates, called this three-week meeting to help foster dialogue in the church while also looking at ways to adapt church practices to the realities of modern family life.

Chaput, an outspoken conservative in the U.S. hierarchy, said in his column that while reformers swear they are not looking to change doctrine, their repeated claims to fidelity may mask plans to alter pastoral practices that could, for example, allow divorced and remarried Catholics to take Communion.

“The more some synod fathers claim that no doctrinal change is sought on matters of divorce and remarriage — only a change in ‘discipline’ — the more other synod fathers worry,” wrote Chaput, one of four bishops elected by his fellow American prelates to be a synod delegate.

“And for good reason. Practice inevitably shapes belief.”


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Chaput’s concerns reflected worries shared by many in the orthodox camp. Some of them have delivered forceful public ultimatums, saying any changes would be tantamount to heresy, while 13 others lodged their protests about the synod’s process — and the working document they are debating — in a secret letter to Francis that was published earlier this week.

Later Friday, however, Archbishop Blase Cupich, a reform-minded prelate picked a year ago by Francis to head the Chicago archdiocese, said Chaput and others should, in effect, chill out.

“I don’t share the anxiety at all,” Cupich told reporters at a briefing.

Cupich then recounted how the pope called him over during a break in the proceedings to chat. “He just looked so refreshed, calm, at peace,” Cupich said. “That, I think, is the attitude that we should all have.

“If the Holy Father is at peace with the way things are going, I think each one of us should put aside the fears or anxieties that might be … present in our hearts and pay attention to” Francis’ example.

As for concerns expressed by Chaput and others that the synod’s working document is too slanted toward the reform agenda, Cupich said that the synod was in fact amending and editing that document.

He also noted that the working document was the product of a synod held last year, as well as months of consultation with bishops from around the world.

“If the bishops don’t like it maybe we are the only ones to blame, in a sense, because it did come from us,” he said.

Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich, shown with Pope Francis in Rome on Sept. 2, 2015, has called for tough gun control laws. Photo by Rich Kalonick

Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich, shown with Pope Francis in Rome on Sept. 2, 2015, has called for tough gun control laws. Photo by Rich Kalonick

Cupich argued that the synod should allow for pastoral flexibility on the two most controversial topics under debate here — Communion for Catholics who have remarried without an annulment, and finding ways to be more welcoming to gays and lesbians.


READ: Are conservatives at high-stakes Vatican summit overplaying their hand?


Now, Catholics who divorce and remarry without getting an annulment are viewed as living in adultery and thus cannot receive Communion unless they vow to abstain from sex. Many in the synod — prompted by direct suggestions from Francis — are pushing for ways around that ban.

In his remarks Friday, Cupich stressed the primacy of the individual conscience in making decisions about whether to receive Communion, and he argued that the pope and the synod could grant bishops and pastors leeway to treat each couple on a case-by-case basis.

“General principles are important. But there’s a limitation on how that allows us the freedom to address real-life situations,” Cupich said, adding:

“I do think we can’t ignore the fact that there are a lot of people who feel stuck. And we have to look for a way in which we are going to reach out to them.”

He said the much same about gay people.

“We have to make sure that we don’t pigeonhole one group as though they’re not part of the human family, so there’s a different set of rules for them. That would be a big mistake,” he said.

“We do have to believe in the mercy of God, and the grace of God to trigger conversion, rather than having it the other way around, as though you’re only going to get the mercy if you have the conversion.”

Those comments were also a notable contrast with Chaput’s views, which he elaborated on in his weekly column, published on Friday in the Philadelphia archdiocesan paper.

Chaput wrote that while he feels compassion for gay Catholics and the divorced and remarried, “mercy without truth is a comfortable form of lying.”


READ: Surprise! Pope Francis stops by Vatican’s new homeless shelter


“The central issue is, do we and they want Jesus Christ on his terms or on ours? If we can’t in principle accept the possibility of discomfort, suffering and even martyrdom, then we’re not disciples. We can’t rewrite or overlook what Jesus requires in order to follow him.”

Chaput and Cupich are two of eight American bishops at the synod.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, were elected by their fellow bishops, like Chaput.

Cupich was chosen as an alternate by the USCCB members, then named last month as a special delegate by Francis. Also picked by Francis were New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Bishop George Murry of Ohio’s Youngstown Diocese.

YS/MG END GIBSON

  • Mary

    The Catholic Church has retained its beliefs since the time of Christ. If we, as Catholics, are to remain faithful disciples, we cannot change the teachings, nor should “pastoral flexibility” on doctrinal issues be permitted. We need only to recollect what transpired after Vatican II when progressives decided to interpret the documents incorrectly. Archbishop Chaput, as usual, is correct in his assessment.

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  • Don

    Cupich v. the Catechism. I’ll go with the Catechism.

    Archbishop Cupich:

    “We do have to believe in the mercy of God, and the grace of God to trigger conversion, rather than having it the other way around, as though you’re only going to get the mercy if you have the conversion.”

    Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    1847 “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.”116 To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”117

    116 St. Augustine, Sermo 169,11,13:PL 38,923.
    117 1 Jn 8-9.

    1864 … There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit.137

    137 Cf. John Paul II, DeV 46.

  • Richard Rush

    One thing that never seems to change is the substantial number of Christians (not just Catholics) who remain stridently adamant that the most crucial Godly endeavors are to deny verified reality, and to protect the sanctity of traditional church cruelty (while often pretending it is love).

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    Archbishop Chaput:

    “And for good reason. Practice inevitably shapes belief.”

    Wonder whether this understanding or perspective was the basis for Chaput’s decision in Denver to support the pastor’s decision to block the enrollment of young children to the local Catholic elementary school because the parents were lesbians.

    Or was this an instance of where “belief shapes practice”. In any case, we can be certain that our young children should not be blocked from learning about Our Lord and the Catholic faith.

  • Betty Clermont

    Of course the pope was “calm.” He knows that at the end of this synod really nice stuff is going to be said but that, as he has often stated, there will be no change in doctrine. Therefore he (French ambassador not approved for being gay, priest fired from the Vatican for being gay), his bishops and pastors will continue to discriminate against and persecute women and gays.

  • Kathryne

    Mary, luckily the administration of the Catholic Church has changed its practices over the centuries. Conservatives like to point and say, oh, these changes which were made were not beliefs, but mistaken practices by “locals” who were uninformed. However, old, now changed, practices were treated and taught as beliefs to the laity and accepted as beliefs by the curates. (A few examples in my lifetime include the requirement of women to have a covered head in Church, lack of female altar servers, no Baptism or admission to the priesthood for those born out of wedlock)

    You *are* correct in that our basic beliefs as proscribed in the Creeds does not change, but I don’t see anything in there that says gay Catholics are to be denied the Sacrament of Matrimony, for example.

  • Rod

    Keep calm. This is not some VS others. This is a Synod.

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  • Bernardo

    Conservatives, liberals? It makes no difference. The RCC and Christianity are slowly being replaced by phrases such as “Do No Harm”. No all-male, old white guy hierarchy needed or desired.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    Well-put, Mr Rush: nothing I can think of in Roman catholic affairs has enjoyed the priority of excluding people, which, IMHO, kinda goes against the grain of the Gospel. But the Roman ecclesiocrats have never been strong on the Gospel: they much prefer law.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    I made a typo–many apologies: I meant to say nothing in RC affairs has enjoyed the priority enjoyed by excluding people.

    The Romans are still stuck on being right and everybody else being wrong. It all goes back to their cultural imperative of maintaining the prestige of the priestly caste above all else. How else can you explain how the pedophilia issue has been managed?

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    A Church that remains counter-cultural IS what is needed.
    Giving in to sin doesn’t make saints. Call it “tough love” if you want modern jargon, but that’s what it is.
    Homosexuals are accepted, not their practices. The divorced and remarried are accepted, not their practices.
    The Church would be denying the sacrificial actions of Christians who DO follow the Messiah at whatever cost. It would be saying, “Anything goes.” WHY BOTHER TO HAVE A CHURCH?! We are still being martyred for the faith in other parts of the world and persecuted in the Western world for our beliefs. In Ancient Rome we were called “haters” of mankind, too. Remember the ways of ancient Rome? Much the way the modern world is going again.

  • Clyde Christofferson

    Jesus Christ preached the reign of God; the Pharisees preached doctrine. Jesus was a Jew, and held to “every jot and tittle” of the law. The reign of God is something more. As the Catholic Church has long taught, there is a hierarchy of teachings, with love and mercy at the top. Jesus gave an example of how the reign of God goes beyond the law. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to him he asked, “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Under the law, the woman was to be stoned. We don’t know whether the woman did as Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” But the mercy shown her may well have set her upon the path of reforming her life, not by the Pharisaical practice of following the law but by following the Spirit of Christ written on her own heart. This is the meaning of the reign of God.

  • John McGrath

    Not true. The fiooque was added to the Nicene Creed on flimsy grounds. An infallible pope in the 1800’s issued an encyclical condemning Democracy as against natural law, that is, using the same Natural Law reasoning used to condemn contraceptives. This infallible doctrine was quietly put aside by a pope in the mid-1900’s. The church also changed itsv teaching on the sinfulness of charging interest on loans.

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  • Marsha West

    Are you unaware that doctrine has developed over time and that the Church was not given a blueprint by Jesus as to how to live out his teachings. Let’s trust the Bishops and the Pope to guide us safely through difficult waters.

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  • Maureen

    Thank you Sister for putting it succinctly. Let us pray for Wisdom and Grace for those who fail to ask the Holy Spirit for the light of life, to guide them to the foot of the Cross where mercy reigns.

  • IrishAmericanCatholic1916

    Read history and you will see the truth in terms of innumerable changes the church made during 2000 years. Remember that Archbishop Lefevbre (sp) of France said the church was not following the 2000 year tradition you speak of and he and his misconceived rump (literally and institutionally) were bounced by both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

  • David Philippart

    I thank God for Archbishop Cupich.