NEW YORK — Ahead of next week’s start to the much-anticipated month-long gathering of bishops in Rome, two American delegates have already preempted the debate by publishing an exchange on the guiding document for the meetings.
Correspondence between Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Archbishop Charles Chaput was published in First Things, a conservative journal on religion, in response to a September 21 column by Chaput that included a 1,300 word critique of the Instrumentem Laboris, the synod’s working document, sent to Chaput by a “respected North American theologian” and published anonymously in his article.
In the original commentary, the theologian faulted the document for its “pervasive focus on socio-cultural elements, to the exclusion of deeper religious and moral issues,” and four areas in which the author enumerated criticisms: “An inadequate grasp of the Church’s spiritual authority;” “A partial theological anthropology;” “A relativistic conception of vocation;” and “An impoverished understanding of Christian joy.”
In addition, the theologian claimed “there are other serious theological concerns, including: a false understanding of the conscience and its role in the moral life; a false dichotomy proposed between truth and freedom; false equivalence between dialogue with LGBT youth and ecumenical dialogue; and an insufficient treatment of the abuse scandal.”
Chaput said the critique that he chose to publish was one of many he received, and added, “it is substantive enough to warrant much wider consideration and discussion as bishop-delegates prepare to engage the synod’s theme.”
In his letter to the editors of the journal published Friday, Cupich fired back that the original critique “represents a woeful lack of understanding of magisterial teaching.”
He also charged that the anonymous author “falsifies the truth” and engaged in “false reporting,” by selecting certain portions without putting it in the larger context of the entire working document, which runs some 30,000 words.
In addition, he said the theologian’s critique distorts truth and “shows condescension toward the issues raised by the bishops’ conferences of the world on which the IL [Instrumentum Laboris] is based.”
He also questioned the use of “anonymous criticism,” saying that it does not lead to healthy discourse.
“The mature vision of Donum Veritatis (“On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian”), speaks of dialogue that is public and forthright in the search for truth, generous in spirit, fair in critique and balanced in tone,” he wrote. “The anonymous critique published by First Things rejects these elements, substituting selectivity, condescension, and the deployment of partial truths to obfuscate the fullness of truth.”
Cupich concluded by quoting from the Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, from the Second Vatican Council, which St. Pope John Paul II also cited in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint:
“Truth … is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth. Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that individuals are to adhere to it.’”
He added, “What is needed is a concern for the Church that is animated by a love for truth. What is needed is the spirit of synodality that Pope Francis has made the very heart of the Church’s upcoming moment of dialogue and teaching in search of ways to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the next generations.”
Chaput’s response said the anonymous criticism he chose to publish was “among the most charitable” he’s received.
“A synod’s Instrumentum is always — or at least should always be — a work in progress, open to discussion and adjustment by the Synod Fathers. I’m sure we can count on that process in the upcoming synod conversation,” he continued.
While he said that he agreed that anonymous sources “can be regrettable,” he defended his publishing of it by saying that “the toxic environment in many of our academic communities makes them necessary.”
More than 300 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay participants from every region around the world will participate in the upcoming Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.
Chaput was elected by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last November to represent the USCCB at the October meeting, however, he is also a member of the synod’s permanent council.
In addition, he will be joined by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB; Archbishop Jose Gomez, vice-president of the USCCB; Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut; auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles.
Cupich, along with Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, were named by Pope Francis earlier this month as special papal delegates to the Synod.
Tobin has since withdrawn citing the need to stay home in his diocese as it recovers from this summer’s continual fallout over Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who led the archdiocese from 1986-2000 and this summer resigned from the College of Cardinals after revelations that he was a serial abuser of seminarians and at least one minor.
The Synod of Bishops officially begins on Wednesday, October 3 and will run through October 28.