Nine US bishops are taking part in the Synod of Bishops on the family, some as elected representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, some as papal nominees, and some as members of the permanent council of the synod. Crux has been interviewing the Americans to solicit their perspectives on the event. Today, Crux speaks to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Read the Gomez interview here.
ROME – For better or worse, the outspoken Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia tends to elicit strong feelings. Conservatives generally see the 71-year-old Capuchin prelate as a hero, while many Catholic liberals view him as a cultural warrior hostile to their concerns about the Church.
Perhaps that explains why Chaput’s presence at the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops on the family has created some of the most lively bits of American subtext.
In press coverage, Chaput has been pitted against a couple of his fellow American prelates, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, both of whom are seen as more moderate. In similar fashion, Chaput also has been styled as one of the bishops inside the synod who harbors reservations about the reform-minded direction of Pope Francis.
For the record, Chaput told Crux on Monday that both impressions are flatly false, calling them “not healthy.” He spoke in Rome during a break in the synod.
Chaput hosted Francis in Philadelphia during his Sept. 22-27 visit to the United States, and told Crux he sees the Argentine pontiff as a “great gift to the Church.”
“He lived with me, and we had a wonderful relationship,” he said of the pontiff’s days in Philadelphia. “I shared meals with him, I shared prayer with him, I shared cars with him, and we got along very, very well.”
Among other things, Chaput said the most striking part of riding around with Francis in the Popemobile was hearing the deafening roars from the crowds up close and personal: “I saw the positive impact he had on the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the people of the United States.”
Chaput insists that any questions he has raised about some aspects of the synod should not be seen as a criticism of the pope.
“I think one of the best gifts as bishops we can give to the pope is to trust him and believe him when he speaks, and I do that,” he said. “He’s my pope and my father, and I have a relationship of filial love and obedience to him.”
On his relationship with his fellow Americans at the synod, Chaput pointed out they don’t have to agree on everything to be friends.
“Sensible people can have differing views without it turning into ill will,” he said.
Chaput said the American bishops celebrate Mass together every morning at 7 at the Pontifical North American College, the Roman residence for American seminarians where they’re staying, with each taking turns as the principal celebrant. They also generally have breakfast and lunch together, he said.
“The atmosphere isn’t just cordial, but warm,” he said.
Chaput suggested that someone has a vested interest in creating impressions of conflict.
“The idea of warring camps makes better copy, or pushes somebody’s agenda, so that becomes the storyline,” he said. “It might make good reading, but it’s not healthy, it isn’t true, and it hurts the Church.”
The bishops at the synod are moving toward the conclusions for a final document to be voted on Saturday night, and Chaput said that at least in his small working group, there’s not much enthusiasm for the “Kasper proposal,” the idea championed by German Cardinal Walter Kasper of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
“My small group is not in favor of that proposal in any kind of numbers,” he said, referring to English group D led by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto. “It really has no traction at all.”
In similar fashion, he expressed a dim view of calls to make the decision on the local level.
“It seems to me that regionalization of our faith is not a very good idea,” he said.
Chaput said he sympathizes with the desire to find new, more positive language to express Church teaching in talking about matters such as gays and lesbians. For example, he agrees that the phrase “intrinsically disordered” to describe a same-sex orientation may have outlived its usefulness.
“That language automatically sets people off, and probably isn’t useful anymore,” he said, while adding that any substitute should not obscure the Church’s view that “same-sex attraction is not part of God’s plan.”
In general, Chaput said he’s been a bit put off by two aspects of the synod experience. First, he cited a lack of intellectual engagement, especially on the Kasper proposal.
“There’s very little theological content,” he said. “It’s emotive – ‘There are so many people who are suffering, let’s do something about it.’ Everybody wants to help people who are suffering, but what we do is very significant.”
Second, he said, he’s been troubled by the impressions of conflict surrounding the synod, which he said “doesn’t correspond to the reality of the fraternal spirit we have within the synod itself.”
On the whole, he expressed hope that the synod will end on a high note, based on what he called an “extraordinary convergence of opinion on most of the issues we’ve discussed.”
“I’m hoping that our document is friendly and enthusiastic about families who are Catholics, living more or less normal family life,” he said, “and not simply a document that focuses on one or two issues and problems.”