Synod, Day 12, Thursday October 15, 2015 – As Seen by the Catholic Left
[According to New Ways Ministry’s Frannie DeBernardo, “National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua McElwee and Father Thomas Reese, SJ are … invaluable in interpreting the sometimes Byzantine language of the Vatican”]
Chicago’s Cupich on divorce: Pastor guides decisions, but person’s conscience inviolable
Joshua J. McElwee | Oct. 16, 2015
VATICAN CITY The Catholic church has to respect decisions divorced and remarried people make about their spiritual lives after they examine what their conscience is telling them to do, Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich said during a press briefing.
Cupich — one of nine Americans attending the ongoing Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops and one of four personally appointed by Pope Francis — said that when he counsels divorced and remarried persons he always tries “in some way to understand them.”
Citing the Latin root for the word reconciliation — which indicates not only forgiveness but a seeing of eye-to-eye — the archbishop said: “If that’s the case, then not only do I have to understand them but I also have to see how they understand me.”
“I try to help people along the way,” said Cupich. “And people come to a decision in good conscience.”
“Then our job with the church is to help them move forward and respect that,” he said. “The conscience is inviolable. And we have to respect that when they make decisions and I’ve always done that.”
Cupich was speaking Friday in a small briefing with journalists at the Vatican on the progress of the synod, a worldwide meeting of Catholic prelates called by Francis to focus on issues of family life.
One of the discussions known to be taking place at the gathering, being held behind closed doors, regards the church’s stance towards divorced persons who remarry without obtaining annulments of their first marriages. Such persons are currently prohibited in church teaching from receiving the Eucharist.
The Chicago archbishop was speaking about his own experience counseling such persons, and was referring to Catholic teaching on the primacy of conscience.
Asked how his experience counseling divorced and remarried persons also applies to same-sex couples, Cupich replied: “I think that gay people are human beings too, and they have a conscience.”
“My role as a pastor is to help them discern what the role of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the church and yet at the same time helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point,” said the archbishop.
“I think that it’s for everybody,” he said. “I think 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, I think, a big mistake.”
Cupich’s replies about ministering to divorced and remarried persons and same-sex couples were part of a briefing that saw the archbishop touch upon many of the discussions known to be taking place at the synod.
The archbishop spoke particularly about a tension the synod prelates are facing between wanting to respond to Catholics who are looking for strong and certain moral teachings and those who want the church to recognize the messiness of everyday life.
Cupich said he knew a retired archbishop who said he wants his tombstone to read: “I tried to treat you like adults.”
“I think that what he means by that is we really do have to have an adult Catholic response to living the Christian life,” said the Chicago archbishop. “That I think is where the Holy Father is leading us.”
“We have the means by which we can help people come to important decisions about how they live their Christian life,” said Cupich. “This is a moment that I think highlights the need for that kind of catechesis all the more.”
“Catechesis cannot be just about giving people the fixed doctrines … but also helping them, accompanying them by showing them the way, the path that the church has outlined in terms of making prudent decisions,” he said.
The Chicago archbishop also quoted a 2009 document from the International Theological Commission on the role of natural law, saying it is “a very important piece for this Synod.”
That document states: “In morality pure deduction by syllogism is not adequate. The more the moralist confronts concrete situations, the more he must have recourse to the wisdom of experience, an experience that integrates the contributions of the other sciences and is nourished by contact with men and women engaged in the action.”
“We can’t just refer to doctrines as though they’re syllogisms that we deduce a conclusion to,” said Cupich. “There has to be that integration of a person’s circumstances, case by case in their life.”
The archbishop also said “the greatest contribution that the bishops can make to families is to act and speak like families act and speak.” He said he is one of nine children and told a story of his mother being asked if she loved on of the children more.
“Only if they need it,” Cupich quoted his mother.
“That’s the way families speak,” said the archbishop. “That’s the way a mother talks. We have to be able to speak that way, too.”
“Syllogisms are important,” he said. “General principles are important. But there’s a limitation on how that allows us the freedom to address real life situations that I believe is in concert with what the church teaches.”
“I would want to make sure that the full breadth of what the church teaches is brought to bear when we address these very, very delicate questions,” he said.
The archbishop also spoke about a desire to change the church’s language in order to make it more accessible and understandable to people.
“If we really do want to engage people, they have to recognize that we know their life in the way that we speak,” he said.
Giving one example, Cupich said that the use of the word indissolubility in church teaching on marriage had been discussed several times at the synod.
“What we heard is that in different cultures, especially in the East, that word says too much for people — or it’s too hard of a word to understand,” said the archbishop.
“People understand life-long fidelity, but it seems to be too much of juridical term to describe the richness and complexity of what a marriage means for people in their culture.”
“I had never heard that before, but I get it,” he said. “Because what it conveys is not the indissolubility of a wedding band but handcuffs.”
Cupich also spoke in depth about German Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal that there could be some sort of “penitential path” for divorced and remarried persons to be readmitted to the Eucharist in certain circumstances.
The archbishop said he had given the book in which Kasper makes the proposal, The Gospel of the Family, to all the priests of his archdiocese. “I wanted them to read that because I thought it was very rich theologically,” he said.
“I think that he has reasoned this proposal well, given the theology that he offers,” said Cupich. “I do think that we should look at a way in which people are not just accompanied but integrated and reconciled.”
“We 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 mercy if you have the conversion,” said the archbishop. “The economy of salvation doesn’t work that way. Christ receives people and it’s because of that mercy that the conversion happens.”
Cupich then told a story he said a priest had told him of celebrating a funeral for a young man who had committed suicide. The man’s mother, he said, was divorced and remarried and also “very angry” at God and the church over what had happened.
When she came forward for Communion at the funeral Mass, she folded her arms to indicate she wanted to receive a blessing. The priest said to her: “No, today you have to receive.”
“She went back to her pew and wept uncontrollably,” said the archbishop. “She then came back to visit with the priest and began reconciliation.”
“Her heart was changed,” said Cupich. “She did have her [first] marriage annulled; her [second] marriage is now in the church.”
“But it was because that priest looked for mercy and grace to touch her heart,” he said. “That’s something we have to keep in mind. And I think the Holy Father has talked about that. It’s not a straight line.”
Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail
Thomas Reese | Oct. 15, 2015
VATICAN CITY The synod on the family has created a lot of interest in the church and spilled a lot of ink (or electrons) in the media, but there are five reasons that it was doomed to fail before the bishops even gathered in Rome Oct. 4. Perhaps Pope Francis can perform a miracle and save it, but the odds are against him.
First, the topic of the synod, “the family,” is too broad.
The family touches everything and is touched by everything. Anything bad in the world affects families, and any problems in families affect the societies in which they live.
Social and economic factors impact families: unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, interreligious differences, consumerism, social media, education, and on and on. Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption.
Scores of moral issues surround the family, everything from the sexual act itself to fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, and so on.
Families are the place where one learns or does not learn the Christian faith, to say nothing of simple moral habits and virtues.
And we have not even gotten to the theological and canonical issues surrounding families: marriage as a sacrament, annulments, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.
It is simply too much to deal with in a three-week meeting.
Second, the membership of the synod makes dealing with the topic of the family difficult.
The 270 synodal fathers come from many different cultures and as a result have very different priorities and concerns, not to mention different cultural conceptions about family life.
Bishops in the Middle East and Africa see their families facing the constant threat of violence and death that forces them to become refugees fleeing their homes. How can you have a family under these circumstances?
Many bishops in the developed world are concerned about how to respond to high divorce rates. But outside the wealthy, industrialized nations, the issues may be human trafficking, arranged marriages, interreligious marriages, child brides, polygamy, female genital mutilation, and cultural customs where marriage is seen as taking place over time, not in the instant when the couple says their vows.
Can so many people from such varied backgrounds have any common understanding of the problems facing families and how to deal with them?
The third problem facing the synod is the synodal process itself.
Synods are paper factories. They produce lots of speeches, recommendations and sometimes even a final document, but do they make a difference? In 1980, I covered an earlier synod on the family that faced almost every issue that this synod faces. Did it make any difference? If it did, I don’t see it.
The 1980 synod made many of the same recommendations that this synod will make: better marriage preparation, better formation of clergy so they can help families, better education programs, greater support from governments for families, less violence, more love.
New programs and ideas are not generated at synods. Bishops can only share what they bring. New programs are created by entrepreneurs who have an idea, experiment with it, and improve it through trial and error.
The fourth reason the synod is doomed to failure is that it is seriously divided on the question of what can and cannot change.
This clash is most obvious over the question of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion.
One side sees only the law — the marriage contract is permanent and can be terminated only by death. The other side sees millions of people suffering from broken marriages that cannot be put back together.
One solution to this crisis is the annulment process, whereby the church declares that, even though there is a signed contract, the contract is not valid because of some failure at the time the wedding took place. There was much support at the 2014 synod for making the annulment process easier and faster, and Francis acted on this between synods.
The attitude of the bishops toward annulments is the greatest change since the 1980 synod on the family, when the American bishops were fiercely attacked by curial cardinals for making annulments too easy.
Francis has gone way beyond the American procedures by allowing bishops to declare a marriage annulled through an administrative process rather than a judicial process. Even canon lawyers are scratching their heads wondering how this will work.
But the fundamental problem faced by the synod is the same one faced by the Second Vatican Council: What can and cannot change in the church?
The pope and the bishops are constantly saying that the synod will not change church doctrine, but only pastoral practice. Bishops appear to even be afraid to talk about the development of doctrine, lest they be seen as wishy-washy on doctrine.
The conservatives see the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion as violating a doctrine of the church — the indissolubility of marriage. To them, it would be an admission that the church was somehow wrong in its teaching in the past.
Any student of the Second Vatican Council recognizes that this was the same complaint of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and his conservative colleagues who fought changes in church teaching on ecumenism, religious liberty and other matters.
So for the bishops to allow divorced and remarried Catholics — who don’t have an annulment but are civilly married — to receive Communion, they must somehow explain it as only a change in pastoral practice and not a change in doctrine.
The fifth reason the synod is doomed is the absence of theologians at the synod.
One conservative curial cardinal complained of the “schoolboy theology” being presented in episcopal speeches. There is some truth in that complaint. There is little evidence in their talks that bishops consulted theologians in order to understand contemporary thinking in Scripture, ethics or doctrine.
The bishops would have been better off spending the first week listening to theologians do an exegesis of scriptural passages on marriage, explain the concept of the development of doctrine, recount the history of the church’s treatment of marriage, and propose resolutions to controversial questions.
The reason that Vatican II was successful was because an alliance was forged between the theological periti and the council fathers that was capable of defeating the Roman Curia’s intransigence. Tragically, this alliance was broken after Humanae Vitae, when theologians were cast into the outer darkness as dissidents whom the bishops were to avoid at all costs.
The result has been disastrous for the church. It is as if the management of a major corporation is not on speaking terms with its research and development division. Would you invest in such a company?
Is there hope for the synod? Yes. Francis has begun a process; he has opened the windows closed after Vatican II. It will take more than three weeks to move the church forward, but he is moving it in the right direction.
Perhaps the synod is not doomed to fail but simply to be unfinished.