ROME — One of the pope’s handpicked delegates participating in the Synod of Bishops said that deliberations would benefit from inviting those who feel marginalized in the Church, such as divorced and remarried Catholics and gay and lesbian couples, to offer their experience to bishops firsthand.
“I did have those voices as part of my consultation,” said Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich. “But I do think that we could benefit from the actual voices of people who feel marginalized, rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.”
He said that it is important for Church leaders to listen to and engage with individual believers in order to understand their issues as they craft appropriate pastoral responses.
“If we’re really going to accompany people, we have to first of all engage them,” he said. “In Chicago, I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized, whether they’re the elderly, or the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals, also couples.”
“I think we need to really get to know what their life is like if we’re going to accompany them,” he continued.
During the 40-minute media briefing held at the Vatican press hall Friday, Cupich distanced himself from some of his American colleagues participating in the synod who have expressed doubts about the worldwide meeting, both its process and potential outcome.
When asked about a private letter a group of cardinals delivered to Pope Francis expressing concerns about the synod’s format, signed by US Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and — according to America magazine — Daniel DiNardo of Houston, Cupich said, “the concerns that they expressed are not my concerns.”
Earlier Friday, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he wrote that some bishops feel “anxiety” about the possible final document.
Cupich suggested those bishops take a cue from Pope Francis, with whom he had chatted earlier in the synod.
“He just looked so refreshed, calm, at peace, and that I think is the attitude we should all have,” Cupich said. “If the Holy Father is at peace with the way things are going, I think that each one of us should put aside the fears or anxieties that might be present in our hearts and pay attention to Peter at this moment.”
Cupich is one of two American bishops personally appointed by Pope Francis to participate in the synod. The other six Americans, including Chaput, were either elected by fellow American prelates or given the role because of their membership on the Vatican’s synod committee.
Picked to lead the nation’s third largest archdiocese about a year ago, Cupich echoed comments the pope made last month during his address to bishops in Washington, DC.
The job of a bishop, Francis said Sept. 23, “is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The style of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant for us.”
On Friday, Cupich said the Church must help people find God’s will for them, not just explain the rules.
“Catechesis cannot be just about giving people the fixed doctrines and the stated doctrines we have, but also helping them, accompanying them, by showing them the way, the path that the Church has outlined in terms of making prudent decisions,” Cupich said. “There has to be that integration of a person’s circumstances, case by case, in their life.”
Some of the other 270 bishops participating in the synod have suggested the Church needs to update the language it uses to describe family life, a concern Cupich expressed Friday as well. He said, for example, that some bishops have pointed to the word “indissoluble” in describing marriage as “too juridical.”
“I have never heard that before, but I get it, because what it conveys is not the indissolubility of a wedding band, but handcuffs,” he said.
On the contentious issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, Cupich said there are some ideas bubbling up in the synod hall about “penitential paths” in order to integrate individuals fully back into the life of the Church.
He pointed to the so-called Kasper Proposal, an idea floated by German Cardinal Walter Kasper that would create a pathway to Communion for the divorced and remarried, and he expressed support for the theology behind the idea, published in a book last year.
“I gave it, by the way, to all my priests. I wanted them to read that, because I thought it was very rich theologically,” he said.
While some bishops have called on the synod to highlight Church teaching about marriage and family, rather than focus on the challenges families face, Cupich seemed to welcome the candid conversation, reflecting on the role of mercy in the Catholic faith.
“We can’t ignore the fact that there are lots of people out there who feel stuck, and we have to look for a way in which we’re going to reach out to them,” he said.
He recalled a story told to him by another priest about a woman whose son had committed suicide.
At the funeral Mass, the woman approached the priest for a blessing during Communion, as she was not permitted to the Eucharist because she was divorced and remarried.
“The pastor said, ‘Today you have to receive,'” Cupich recalled.
The woman did, in violation of Church law, and she then returned to her seat, in tears. Eventually, she met with the priest and the two of them worked through her anger at God and the Church. She eventually took steps that allowed her to be welcomed back to the sacraments.
“It was because that priest looked for mercy and grace to touch her heart, and that’s something we have to keep in mind,” he said.
“We have to believe in the mercy of God, and the grace of God, triggering conversion, rather than having it the other way around, as though you’re only going to get the mercy if you have the conversion,” he said. “The economy of salvation doesn’t work that way.”