Philadelphia's archbishop Charles Chaput, often swayed by politics at home, is sounding like a principled Catholic shepherd at the Synod in Rome.
Concerned Catholics, including the Lepanto Institute and Churchmilitant.com, took Chaput to task for the scandal he caused by allowing the leadership team of the World Meeting of Families to include individuals who are pro-abortion and pro-same sex "marriage."
One of Chaput's anti-family appointees was Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, who was granted an honorary co-chair position in the event last month.
Things went from bad to worse at the event when Nutter came out and advocated for gay rights only minutes before the papal address.
Through it all, Chaput defended his politically correct decisions without apology or retraction. The prelate even excoriated those who questioned such collaboration and the scandal that ensued.
So the faithful are pleasantly surprised to hear the Catholic tone of Chaput's two recent interventions at the current Synod in Rome.
The first intervention came last week as Chaput critiqued the Instrumentum Laboris — the working document for Synod Fathers.
During his brief address to prelates, Chaput criticized this important document for its tone of hopelessness, which seemingly sidelines the Church's call for conversion.
Speaking of their working document, Abp. Chaput lamented:
But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.
The Instrumentum Laboris is meant to guide the work of the Synod Fathers. Chaput believes this guide to be defective as it tends to leave people mired in their ignorance and sinful state without clear instruction or a firm call to repentance.
Chaput addressed this deficiency:
The work of this Synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.
He finished his critique calling for clear confirmation of truth.
We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope — hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman. This Synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.
Archbishop Chaput, who in action can at times be politically motivated, was just warming up. A few days after critiquing the Instrumentum Laboris, Chaput made yet another strong intervention, this time to fellow Synod Fathers on Saturday, titled Language and its Implications. It was chock-full of insights.
The archbishop spoke of the need for precise language, saying, "Just as our thoughts shape the language we use, so too the language we use shapes our thinking and the content of our discussions. Imprecise language leads to confused thinking, and that can sometimes lead to unhappy results."
Chaput brought up two loaded examples of such precise language. The first points to the difficulty in offering mercy or the sacraments to those in adulterous or homosexual lifestyles who resist conversion. It also focuses on the need to remain in the truth when ministering to such individuals. In Chaput's words,
The first example is the word inclusive. We've heard many times that the Church should be inclusive. And if by "inclusive" we mean a Church that is patient and humble, merciful and welcoming — then all of us here will agree. But it's very hard to include those who do not wish to be included, or insist on being included on their own terms. ... The lesson is simple. We need to be a welcoming Church that offers refuge to anyone honestly seeking God. But we need to remain a Church committed to the Word of God, faithful to the wisdom of the Christian tradition, and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ.
The archbishop's second example is also replete with meaning. Speaking of authentic unity arising from fidelity to truth, Chaput expounds:
The second example is the expression unity in diversity. The Church is "catholic" or universal. We need to honor the many differences in personality and culture that exist among the faithful. But we live in a time of intense global change, confusion and unrest. Our most urgent need is unity, and our greatest danger is fragmentation.
This led into his bombshell warning:
Brothers, we need to be very cautious in devolving important disciplinary and doctrinal issues to national and regional episcopal conferences — especially when pressure in that direction is accompanied by an implicit spirit of self-assertion and resistance.
At this point, one can't help but recall the incident earlier this year where German Bishops who favor giving Communion to the civilly remarried, declared openly they would set their own course after the Synod. It was at this time that the head of the German Conference, Cdl. Reinhard Marx stated, "The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany."
Furthermore, last year's Extraordinary Synod was convened to set the agenda for this year's Ordinary Synod. The document summing up last year's discussion was called the Relatio Synodi.
A section of that document suggested leaving the decision to give Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried up to local bishops. So the fact that Germany would be defiant on this issue should not be surprising.
Point 52 of this Relatio in part states,
The Synod Father[s] also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Various Synod Fathers insisted on maintaining the present discipline, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as Her teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. ... Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop.
This is the very thing that Chaput is now warning against. Chaput personally understands the power of politics in dioceses and various bishops' conferences. So he knows well the need for principles which must come from Rome.
We leave off with a warning unveiled by veteran reporter and Vatican correspondent Ed Pentin who wrote a book on the manipulation of last year's synod by progressive forces in the Church. Speaking of the possible instrumentalization of this year's synod by the same forces, Pentin warns,
Overall, in the view of those concerned about the process, such new rules could lead to the Pope pronouncing there never has been an insurmountable dogmatic problem with these controversial proposals and that he subsequently might introduce some contentious pastoral issues relating to human sexuality to national bishops' conferences.
This will mean "Catholic divorce" in Germany and other European countries and something rather different, say, in Nigeria.
Standing on a platform of politics may have enabled Abp. Chaput to see clearly how doctrine and discipline could readily fall prey to politics unless clear principles are forthcoming from Rome.