Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia spoke a prophetic word on Monday night at the 2014 Erasmus Lecture in New York. Actually, he spoke several prophetic words. The most powerful, the one that bears mentioning before I turn to the one that immediately concerns us here, was about our duty to the poor:
If we ignore the poor, we will go to hell. If we blind ourselves to their suffering, we will go to hell. If we do nothing to ease their burdens; then we will go to hell. Ignoring the needs of the poor among us is the surest way to dig a chasm of heartlessness between ourselves and God, and ourselves and our neighbors. [Pretty clear.]
This searing spiritual challenge was the heart of Chaput’s talk, but because our press is less concerned with the poor’s suffering than the rich’s interminable debates over sex, these words weren’t highlighted. Instead, attention centered on Chaput’s comments on the recent Synod on the Family in Rome.
David Gibson of Religion News Service [which to me seems rarely to read events in the Church with an objective stance] wrote an article that suggested Chaput had denounced the Synod in unequivocal terms as “of the devil.” The headline, likely not picked by Gibson but certainly reflecting the tone of his article, said that Chaput had “blasted” the Synod.
In fact, Chaput denounced its public image while saying he would need to hear more from his brother bishops who actually attended before forming a firm opinion. As I told David O’Reilly of the Philadelphia Inquirer, there was no criticism of Pope Francis. Chaput did, however, offer the deliciously prophetic warning alluded to at the beginning of this post. His words?
“To get your information from the press is a mistake.” [This is also why I think the Catholic blogosphere, though flawed and limited, is vital, now more than ever. We have an alternate information stream.]
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Below is the full text of Chaput’s remarks on the Synod (watch the video here; relevant portion begins at 56:00).
Audience member: Thank you for your splendid lecture. I would be very grateful for your comments on the recent Synod on the Family in Rome.
Chaput: Well, first of all, I wasn’t there. That’s very significant, because to claim you know what really happened when you weren’t there is foolish. To get your information from the press is a mistake because they don’t know well enough how to understand it so they can tell people what happened. I don’t think the press deliberately distorts, they just don’t have any background to be able to evaluate things. In some cases they’re certainly the enemy and they want to distort the Church.
Now, having said all that, I was very disturbed by what happened. I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion. Now, I don’t think that was the real thing there. I’m anxious to hear from Bishop Kurtz. Bishop Kurtz and the Byzantine bishop of Pittsburgh were the two Americans who were our delegates there. Cardinal Dolan was there and Cardinal Wuerl because they’re part of the organization body of the Synod. But every country’s president of the bishop’s conference attended, and then they have representatives from the Eastern Church. That’s why Bishop Skurla was there from Pittsburgh.
I want to hear from them. Then you can ask me the question and I can give you a better answer. Now, I read about it in the same blogs you do. There’s no doubt that the Church has a clear position: on what marriage means and that you don’t receive communion unless you’re in communion with the teachings of Christ, that gay marriage is not a possibility in God’s plan and therefore can’t be a reality in our lives. There’s no doubt about any of that. I think when it’s all said we have to be charitable toward people who disagree with us and we certainly welcome into the Church sinners. I’m one, and they usually welcome me when I come to the parishes.
I think we have to be better at reaching out to divorced Catholics so they don’t think that they’re immediately excluded from the Church because they’ve been divorced and remarried. Some people think that even when they get a divorce they’re not welcome in the Church. So I think we need to work on that.
We have deep respect for people with same-sex attraction, but we can’t pretend that they’re welcome on their own terms. None of us are welcome on our own terms in the Church; we’re welcome on Jesus’ terms. That’s what it means to be a Christian—you submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching, you don’t recreate your own body of spirituality.
I’m not fundamentally worried because I believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church. The last report at the end was certainly much better than the interim listing of the topics that were talked about.