Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.
After reading yesterday’s post about the impromptu interview with Archbishop Blase Cupich, a loyal Bondings 2.0 reader, Ryan Sattler, asked in one of the “Comments” to that post: “How are his fellow bishops receiving his fresh, non-threatening approach?”
That’s a good question. It is hard to answer, though, because many bishops here are “playing it close to the vest,” by speaking in general terms, talking about the synod process and atmosphere rather than on the substance of the discussions.. The information that is offered to the press comes through spokespersons, mostly, and the occasional interview or release of a speech’s text that a bishop may grant. I’m learning that interpreting the statements that bishops make here is sort of like reading tea leaves–and probably just as reliable.
The religion reporters here, though, are top-notch, And many of the more seasoned ones are excellent at ferreting out and decoding the statements of bishops. To answer Ryan Sattler’s question, it’s best to look at an article by Religion News Service’s David Gibson, one of the best Catholic Church observers in the business.
Following the Cupich interview, Gibson wrote an article comparing the approach of the Chicago archbishop with another American prelate who is here, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput. As Gibson points out in his article’s headline, “US archbishops Chaput and Cupich offer sharply different visions of Vatican synod.”
Chaput has expressed worry over the synod making any changes, even if they’re not doctrinal changes. Gibson quoted Chaput’s words from a Wall Street Journal op-ed essay on Friday:
“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.
“And for good reason. Practice inevitably shapes belief.”
(A side note: Chaput is right that practice shapes belief. But that it how the Church has always developed its doctrine. In an interview I did with Crux last week, I explained a theory of how doctrine develops: “Pastoral practice first has to change, then there has to be theological reflection on that pastoral practice, then eventually from that theological reflection a change in doctrine might occur. That’s the pattern that’s always happened in the Church on any issue.”)
But, as Gibson points out, Cupich does not share Chaput’s worry. When asked in his press conference about the concern some have about change, Cupich answered:
” ‘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.”
While Cupich’s remarks during the press conference stressed the need for providing mercy to any and all people, regardless of the outcome or result of what extending that mercy might be. He explicitly mentioned divorced/remarried and LGBT people in this regard.
Chaput, writing in a column in his archdiocesan newspaper, has a different slant on mercy. Gibson quoted from that essay:
“Chaput wrote that while he feels compassion for gay Catholics and the divorced and remarried, ‘mercy without truth is a comfortable form of lying.’
” ‘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.’
There is one other area where the differences between these two American archbishops comes out, Gibson noted:
“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.”
The National Catholic Reporter editorialized this weekend on the uncertainty that seems to be hanging over synod debates and tensions which seem unresolvable, noting that at least it is better than past synods in which real debate was discouraged:
“The synod has reached the halfway mark as this editorial is being written and we hear some synod fathers say they are confused about the direction and even the purpose of this gathering.
“It is ironic that some have complained of a rigged synod, an outcome pre-ordained. The reality is that, unlike past synods, where the results were known before any conversation took place, the conclusions of this synod are clearly unknown.”
Though the editors did not have a solution or prediction, they did offer an insightful and poignant response:
“Midway through the general assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, confusion, if not chaos, reigns, to paraphrase a synod father. And in that confusion is fear, fear of uncertainty and the unknown.
“Well, bishops, our brothers, welcome to family life. Seemingly without knowing it, you have stumbled upon a key experience of being in and raising a family: uncertainty.
“Don’t fear it, synod fathers. Relish it. This is how families live.”
Nicely put. In other words, to answer “How will the synod end?” is as difficult a question to ask as “How will children grow up?” And like in most families, tension and disagreements will always be present. The trick is how to resolve them all with love.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Religion News Service: “Archbishop Charles Chaput: Synod document ‘engenders a subtle hopelessness’ “