Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich gives Holy Communion during a mass. Photo courtesy of Catholic Extension Society/Rich Kalonick

Cupich speaks: The church must learn from the faithful about married life

(RNS) — The Catholic Church needs to learn about married life from the faithful, said Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich in an important address at the University of Cambridge. He is not saying this from a desire to water down church teaching but from theological conviction.

Not only does the church bring the gospel to families, families contribute to the church’s understanding and proclamation of the gospel, Cupich argued in England Friday (Feb. 9). He reaches this conclusion by beginning with the church’s understanding of the family as a privileged site of God’s self-revelation.

If we accept that, said Cupich, “then no family should be considered deprived of God’s grace.” As a result, “Our ministerial approach should begin with the understanding that families are not problems to solve,” he said. “Rather, they are opportunities for the church to discern with the aid of the Spirit how God is active in our time and what God is calling us to do here and now.”

In his address sponsored by the university's Von Hügel Institute for Critical Catholic Inquiry, Cupich makes a significant contribution to the international debate over "Amoris Laetitia," coming down strongly on the side of Pope Francis, who has been severely criticized for opening the possibility of divorced and remarried Catholics being admitted to Communion. The cardinal even quotes from Vatican II's "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," which calls for religious submission of mind and will to the magisterium of the pope.

Cupich believes that the apostolic exhortation presents a new paradigm that calls us to embrace a new spirit, a change of direction in the way the church carries out its ministry to families.

Francis, according to Cupich, has introduced a set of six hermeneutical principles that force a paradigm shift, allowing us to re-envision the church’s engagement with couples and families.

The first principle is “The Family is a Privileged Site of God’s Self-Revelation.” If we really believe that, then the church must move away from presenting an abstract and idealized presentation of marriage. “The task of those who minister to families,” he explained, “is to open their eyes to see, and to help families discern where God is calling them.”

God’s self-revelation is not restricted only to those who meet the church’s marital ideals. God can also be present in irregular situations, including those divorced and remarried. Cupich argues that although this is a paradigm shift for those who minister to families, it is a shift “holistically rooted in Scripture, tradition and human experience.”

The first interpretive principle leads directly to the second. “Because families are a privileged place of God’s self-revelation and action in the world, there needs to be a shift in the way the church’s ministers interact with families and married couples. It should be marked by a mutual respect for the movement of the Spirit. Ministers must accompany families in a process of discernment.”

In other words, the church must not just teach; it must also learn from families. All must “remain open to the possibility of learning from one another in seeking to understand the mystery of God together.”

Archbishop Blase Cupich leads his first Easter Mass in Chicago in 2015 at St. Julie Billiart Catholic Church in Tinley Park, Ill. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago

Cupich argues that this is what Francis means by a "synodal" church. It means “rejecting an authoritarian or paternalistic way of dealing with people that lays down the law, that pretends to have all the answers, or easy answers to complex problems, that suggests that general rules will seamlessly bring immediate clarity or that the teachings of our tradition can preemptively be applied to the particular challenges confronting couples and families.”

“The core goal of formal teaching on marriage is accompaniment, not the pursuit of an abstract, isolated set of truths,” he asserts. This accompaniment “involves a process of listening and learning, that guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God.”

Cupich argued that “This represents a major shift in our ministerial approach that is nothing short of revolutionary.”

Mutual respect in discerning the movement of the Spirit in the process of accompaniment opens up to the third shift on the role of conscience. Conscience is not just about recognizing past sins or recognizing objective truth in the present, it is also about discerning the future — What is God asking of me now?

Cupich quotes Vatican II’s "Gaudium et Spes," which describes conscience as “the most secret core and sanctuary of a man … (where) he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” If we take this seriously, says Cupich, it “demands a profound respect for the discernment of married couples and families. Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives.” The voice of conscience is the voice of God.

“It is hard to overstate the significance of this hermeneutical shift,” says Cupich. “By fully embracing the understanding of conscience found in 'Gaudium et Spes,' Pope Francis points not only to the possibility of accompaniment in the church’s ministry with families but also to its necessity.”

The fifth paradigm shift is recognizing that when dealing with particular cases, a pastoral— and not merely doctrinal approach — is needed.

“As pastoral discernment attends to the reality of a situation,” Cupich told his audience, "the conscience based Christian moral life does not focus primarily on the automatic application of universal precepts. Rather, it is continually immersed in the concrete situations which give vital context to our moral choices.”

This shift towards a pastoral approach involves creating a culture of care, hospitality and tenderness in the parish community on behalf of those who have been wounded.

This final shift is the result of resituating mercy at the heart of the gospel to the point that “we should always consider ‘inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy,’” said Cupich, quoting Francis. This is the heart of Cupich's sixth principle. “Doctrinal development is about remaining open to the invitation to see our moral teachings on marriage and family life through the lens of God’s omnipotent mercy.”

Although he calls these paradigmatic shifts “revolutionary,” they are not “new” but “revivified,” according to Cupich. Francis “does that by connecting tradition and experience, teaching and practice in a way that better responds to the realities people face in their daily lives.”

Cardinal Cupich’s address is a substantial contribution to the understanding of "Amoris Laetitia," probably the most widely debated papal document since Pope Paul VI’s "Humanae Vitae," which forbade the use of artificial contraception. He with Francis is calling on the church to take the laity seriously and listen to the Spirit active in their lives, especially in their families.


  1. This is simply stunning and important in recognizing that men and women who are not in the hierarchy or even theologians have something to teach the Church about real life and the stupidity of rules that don’t fit concrete situations but which the high-and-mighty insist must be followed exactly.

    More, it is important in recognizing individual conscience: as Cupich said “the conscience based Christian moral life does not focus primarily on the automatic application of universal precepts. Rather, it is continually immersed in the concrete situations which give vital context to our moral choices.”

    Context to moral choices – like using birth control to plan families, like admitting that a marriage mistake can be corrected (divorce and remarriage).

    Now, we need for make sure that the Church powers recognizes the importance of the voice of faithful Catholics, married or not, divorced/remarried, LGBT, single and co-habiting, using birth control, etc. There are tens of millions of Catholics who love the faith but think the rules don’t make sense – and they don’t.

    God bless Pope Francis for opening this door to listening. Now, he needs to support creating forums where lay may join in the conversation and discernment of what the doctrine/teaching needs to be.

  2. You can teach all you want about families, but neglecting to help someone to become a member of Christ’s family – it’s all for naught and everyone loses.
    Time for the RCC to set priorities that will help the congregations

  3. Yep, heaven points come first. Until that score card is complete, all else is damned into oblivion.

  4. That’s what I thought. No heaven points? Then the family and the children born in wedlock can starve in the streets as far as Christianity is concerned…unless one kid is tossed upon an alter and its throat is slashed.

  5. Another reason to walk away and stay away from organized religion. Too many petty folks keeping score cards of their own design but based on one manuscript.

  6. “The cardinal even quotes from Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” which calls for religious submission of mind and will to the magisterium of the pope.”

    Yeah, liberals tend to do that when there’s a liberal wearing the Pontifical hat. Funny how they never thought that way when an orthodox Pope like Benedict lead the church.
    Cupich has been a disgrace his entire career. This is just more of the same.

  7. So the RCC should maybe NOT depend on celibate men for marriage expertise..sounds about right.

  8. Aren’t you helping someone to become a member of Christ’s family by teaching about the family?

  9. I would say no to that Mark.
    Christ died so that we can be cleansed of our sin (the main of the many reasons), which enables so that we can enjoy a relationship with Him. If people are not taught that they need to renounce their sin, ask Christ for forgiveness and follow Him, the few years here will be wasted and worth nothing. Understanding families will not help them when they meet Christ, Mark. They will still endure His wrath.

  10. Sandi, the concept of Christ dying as a sacrifice for our sins makes no sense and I don’t believe acceptance of that fact enables us to have a relationship with him. Also, renounce sin how? Don’t most regret their faults and intend to do better?

  11. Someone needs to die for their sin, as God commanded it. God, in His love for us, sent His Son to die for us should we accept His offer. That is how He was a sacrifice for our sin.
    God cannot hear our prayers unless we have a relationship with Him.
    Renounce, repent…..same thing.
    Renounce is turning 180 degrees from your sin. Christ knew we would fall back at times, so you just confess the sin and He is just to forgive us of our sin, if we are serious.

  12. All I’ve seen is chaos and collapse since Pope Francis was elected. Cardinal Cupich is just a smug snake oil salesman.

  13. Very often from the present leadership in the Church, we hear how “the spirit” this and “the spirit” that and how we should listen to how “the spirit” is leading the faithful in new ways etc, etc. Never one is this spirit identified as “The Holy Spirit.” That’s because the Holy Spirit would never ever lead the faithful to sin and call it mercy or something else. The Church has no paradigm shifts. It only and ever has the TRUTH. These are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  14. Praise be the Lord – and say Hallelujah brother !
    siw nee Elmer Gantry

  15. Cupich fired archdiocesan employees Sandor Demkovich and Colin Collette after the former announced his marriage and the latter his engagement to other men.

  16. Returning to the roots:

    JC’s family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.”)

    Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann’s conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

    Actually, Jesus was a bit “touched”. After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today’s world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J’s gospel being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today’s followers of Paul et al’s “magic-man” are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and “magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah/Argentinian white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

  17. That would certainly support the conclusion that the nonsense Jesus spouted about divorce belongs in the dumper.

  18. Remember the author is Thomas Reese, SJ, who got booted from the editorship of America and wound up over at National Catholic Reporter.

    He believes in pair of dime shifts because he can feel them moving in his pocket.

  19. I understand down the grapevine you are a human being.

    Those are the folks who have and cover for those who have sex with children.

    Those are your family and always have been.

  20. I assume you found this out by experience while trying to dispense moral advice while wearing a dress?

  21. I’m not that confident that the Gospels are an accurate reflection of what the guy upon who those stories is based actually said. Maybe. Maybe not.

  22. There have indeed been a long line of nasty popes.

  23. Why does anyone need to die for their sin? Makes no sense just like the whole notion of penal atonement.

  24. Your UP arrow supporter, “T”, doesn’t like paradigm shifts.

  25. Odd. I’ve seen the Gospel in action (outside of Francis’ snafu in Chile).

  26. “Someone needs to die for their sin, as God commanded it. God, in His love for us, sent His Son to die for us should we accept His offer. That is how He was a sacrifice for our sin.”

    The notion that Jesus was sacrificed by the Father is the result of typology, which proves nothing. Primitive Christians’ understanding of sacrifice was that of self-expenditure to help others. It was not cultic-oriented.

  27. I suggest you research the following scripture:

    John 12:27 – English Standard Version
    “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

  28. Jesus knows he’s going to be crucified by the Roman government as a troublemaker. He also knows that certain Jewish leaders want him dead.

  29. Interesting change of topics.

    Weigel writes about doctrine – e.g., the indissolubility of marriage – and the super lightweight Michael Sean Winters writes about ephemera – e.g. the training of clerics.

    I suppose it’s a good thing that the National Catholic Reporter exists, otherwise Winters would have to get a real job suited to his talents – perhaps obit editor at a large newspaper.

    It helps when writing on topics like this to know, as Weigel does, something about the church and its teachings.

    And if Winters is what you believe is sound thinking, your positions are completely understandable along with being dead wrong.

  30. And you, sir, are “dead wrong”.

    (i would give a substantive reply, but you’ve given me nothing of substance)

  31. We shall all die at some time. Jesus died from his crucifixion (and his passion likely contributed to his death). That said, Jesus died historically because Pontius Pilate and a few Jewish religious leaders were upset by Jesus threatening their security and comfort.

    The notion that Jesus was sacrificed by the Father for our salvation is not only toxic but heterodox as well. The earliest Christians did not hold such a belief. What you apparently embrace is a later church doctrine developed by Christian apologists to attract Jews to the new fold or to encourage them to remain within it.

    Historical facts trump church doctrine.

  32. Hebrews 10:14 – English Standard Versionr
    For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

    Hebrews 10: But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

  33. “Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare.”

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