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A conversation with Archbishop Cupich on the Synod with the Vatican Press Corps

17. okt. 2015


A conversation with Archbishop Cupich
on the Synod with the Vatican Press Corps

Friday, October 16, 2015
Press Office of the Holy See, Vatican City

•     Asked if he shares the anxiety of the signatories of the ‘Letter of the 13’ about synod. 

I really don’t. It’s important to keep in mind something about the working document. It’s the result of the first synod and the consultation with the bishops, so it’s not as though someone decided to write this document. It is in some ways a summary of the earlier discussions and consultations that already took place. It is a reflection of the input that was given. So if the bishops don’t like it, maybe we’re the only ones who are to blame in a sense because it came from us.

Remember too that it is a working document, not a final document and if there are things for us to tweak and refine, then that’s great, let’s do that, but I do not share the anxiety at all. 

I look at the Holy Father … He motioned to me one day to come over and talk to him and he just looked so  refreshed, calm and at peace and that is the attitude I think we should all have. If the Holy Father is at peace with the way things are going, each one of us should put aside the fears and anxiety that may be part of the presence in our hearts and pay attention to Peter at this moment. 

•     Asked if environment and gun control, both issues on which Abp Cupich has spoken, had come up at the synod.

Yes, ecology has come up in terms of the impact it has on global poverty — some of the poorer countries where they see the sea levels rising, and some of the bishops are being impacted by that have spoken. Also with regard to violence: not necessarily the kind of gun violence we have but domestic violence and violence in society, with regard to drug trafficking — that has come up. Also the issue of labor, in the sense that workers — especially in cases where both parents are working — the impact that has on family life. So not as directly as I addressed them, as an issue for Chicago, but those issues are present in the room.

•     Asked about the impact of the ‘Letter of the 13’.

Well of course I did not see any original letter but I’ve read news reports and the concerns they expressed are not my concerns, and the Holy Father spoke to some of those concerns on Tuesday morning [of the first week] and I think by and large people were satisfied with how he addressed those concerns. I think it has had absolutely no impact at all on the synod.

•     If the synod was so open etc., why did people feel the need to send something that was private rather than take to the synod floor?

That is a very good question which you should pose to the people who signed it.

•     Asked if he feels a tension between responding to Catholics who seem to need a strong leader with clear ideas who will lay out exactly for them what they are to do, and those Catholics who seem to be more willing to work out the messiness. 

I've felt it for 40 years as a priest. A friend of mine who is a retired archbishop says all he wants on his tombstone is, ‘I tried to treat you like adults’. And I think that what he means by that is that we do need to have an an adult Christian response to living the Christian life and that I think is where the HF is leading us. We have the means by which we can help people come to decisions, important decisions, about how they live their Christian life.

 This is a moment that highlights that kind of catechesis all the more: catechesis cannot bejust about giving people the fixed doctrines and the stated doctrines we have but also helping them, accompanying them, showing them the path the Church has outlined in terms of making prudent decisions. We have documents that really help us do that. I would point out, for instance, the  2009 document by the International Theological Commission on natural law. There is a whole section in there on how you make moral decisions, and I think that’s a very important piece for this synod. We can’t just refer to doctrines as though they were syllogisms from which we deduce a conclusion. There has to be that integration of a person’s circumstance case by case in their life.  

•     Question about final document / post-synodal exhortation. Is there a desire to keep the conversation going, not close it off?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ve heard that too, that the Holy Father is not going to have an apostolic exhortation. Remember though that he issued two motu propio prior to the synod, and it could be that, much like Pope Benedict did, he could have that means by which decisions are communicated and made, kind of like the executive orders that we have in the United States. I don’t want to second-guess what the HF is going to do. But let’s go back to that word ‘synod’. Because the Holy Father has said he wants a Church that reflects synodality, that is, a walking together. And we’re surely not at the end of the journey. I think we’re justtaking the first steps. 

•     Question about same-sex marriage, whether it’s come up at Synod

It has come up in the small groups and occasionally in the three-minute speeches. It’s clear to me that that discussion needs to mature in the light of the Church. If we’re going to really accompany people we have to first of all engage them. In Chicago, I visit regularly with people who feel marginalised. Whether they are the elderly, or the divorced and remarried, or gay and lesbian individuals, also couples. I think that we need to really get to know what their life is like if we are going to accompany them. The words ‘accompaniment’, ‘integration’ and ‘reconciliation’ continue to be repeated in the synod; and we have to look for a way those three words are going to be the template for us to continue discussion for all those people, whether they’re folks who are divorced and remarried, or gay, or people who feel disenfranchised. Those three words I think are going to guide us going forward. 

•     Question about sacraments for divorced and remarried; what is the state of things inside the synod hall on that question?

Well I think people have stated their positions.  I know the German bishops have, also Roberto González [Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico] had an intervention which was published, in regard to penitential practice, as a way of moving forward. Others feel as though that the doctrine of the Church is clear about that. But I would go back again, as I said earlier, to what the Church teaches about making sure we consider things on a case-by-case basis. I do have this one thing from this document on natural law from the ITC from 2009; this is what it says:

 "… [I]n morality pure deduction by syllogism is not adequate. The more the moralist confronts concrete situations, the more he must have recourse to the wisdom of experience, an experience that integrates the contributions of the other sciences and is nourished by contact with men and women engaged in the action."

 That seems to me to go beyond the language of syllogism. I really think that — and this is a point I really want to make with you today — I think the greatest contribution that the bishops can make to families is to act and speak like families act and speak. That is a very key thing and I find that happening. A number of years ago my mother, who gave birth to nine children, was asked: “Do you love any of your children more than the others?” And her answer was simple: “Only if they need it.” Well that’s the way families speak. That’s the way a mother talks. We have to speak that way too. Syllogisms are important; general principles are important. But there’s a limitation on how that allows us the freedom to address real-life situations that I believe is in concert with what the Church teaches, as referenced in this particular document. So I would want to make sure that the full breadth of what the Church teaches is brought to bear when we address these very delicate questions. 

•     What is at stake at the synod? What is the point of this?

I think that by having us come together and listen to each other there is great benefit. Maybe we’re not going to come out with the sharp, clear answers that you in the media would like to have in order to write nice stories but I’m seeing real transformation happening in the aula [synod hall]: people are talking to each other, they’re listening to each other, they’re coming in with a sense that their own views are changing. I have changed. I have listened to the other side where I have really taken  to heart what has been said across the board. One of the participants said he felt like one of the three kings - -he’s going to go back by a different way. And I think that’s true for all of us. So if it has that impact I think the synod will be a success just for that. 

•     We’re trying to figure out where you fall on the spectrum … 

People have been trying to do that for years! 

•     In your pastoral experience, how have you counselled someone who is divorced and married and their desire to participate in the sacraments? And second, if it were your synod, you were running the show, what would you think would be a good paragraph?

I’ll take the last one first.  I think it would be a huge pretense on my part even to think that … I mean, this is the Pope’s synod, and I’m not equipped to even begin to answer that. He’s got to make his own decisions about that. I don’t come in with any pre-conceived goals. I came here, at the request of the Holy Father — I was not elected, I was appointed by the Pope to come here — and I heard him say: speak boldly and listen humbly. So I didn’t come here with any preconceived notions with what I want to do.

In regard to my own pastoral work with people I’ve always tried to understand them. We use that word reconciliation all the time. It doesn’t mean giving people forgiveness. It comes from an anatomical root, namely the eyelashes, cilia, so you begin to see eye to eye with people. So if that’s the case, then not only do I have to understand them, but I also have to see how they understand me. And so I try to help people along the way, and if people come to a decision in good conscience then our job as a Church is to help them move forward and to respect that the conscience is inviolable, and we have to respect that, when they make decisions. And I’ve always done that. 

•     How to encourage people to play a larger part in the Church?

People go through phases in their lives so we have to be patient with them and always available and present to them. I don’t worry too much about market share. I want to invite people, and we have to look for ways. One of those ways is for younger generation is through volunteering for Catholic Charity events. Young people today are generous. When they come and participate in that kind of work, that’s where you really engage them, and that’s where you invite them to be part of the life of the  Church. It might not be at Sunday Mass, but you can engage them through the generosity that’s in their hearts. I have a great hopefulness about young people; they are very generous. When I go to the universities in Chicago and say Mass for the students, and I talk to them afterwards, I really enjoy that, I’m energised by that. Now, do these kids go to Mass every weekend? Probably not. But there’s something else in their lives that really is an issue, and they have to know that we are with them. 

•     What has been the role of the African bishops at the synod?

The extended family is something they are reminding us of the value of. In the US, the extended family support system has really eroded, because of the mobility in the workplace, people are not with their extended families any more like they would be in some other countries or cultures. So they’re reminding us of the importance of the extended family. What I did in my intervention was to say that what the Church needs to do, in western society, and in the US in particular, is to be the substitute for that extended family because nuclear families are detached from that extended family, and the Church needs to be "the family for families.” That was the point that I tried to make.  

•     How important is the apparent agreement by the German bishops on the relationship between justice and mercy?

The Germans along with other countries and cultures are making a singular contribution. They are in touch with a theological tradition. They have some very important voices that are well educated, and they bring that voice to the table. So I weigh them as I do all the others; I listen to what they have to say and I’m very respectful. They come with a great theological tradition. 

•     Question about whether what he previously said about conscience applies also to gay people.

Gay people are human beings too and they have a conscience. My role as a pastor is to help them discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teachings of the Church and yet at the same time helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point. So I think that it’s for everybody. We have to be careful not to pigeonhole one group as though they’re not part of the human family. As if there’s a different set of rules of them. That I think would be a big mistake. 

•     Question about call in synod for new language; is this a call for the language of teaching documents to be amended, or a new pastoral language?

Yes and I would go back to what I said earlier. We have to speak to families the way families recognize themselves. Yes it’s important to have various general principles, categories, words from our tradition and so on, and yet if we really do want to engage people they have to recognise that we know their life in the way that we speak. 

It’s interesting: the word ‘indissolubility’, what we heard is that in different cultures, especially in the east, that word says too much for people, or it’s too hard a word to understand. People understand ‘lifelong fidelity’, but it seems too much of a juridical term to describe the richness and complexity of what a marriage means for people and their culture. I had never heard that before. But I get it. Because what it conveys is not the indissolubility of a wedding band, but handcuffs. 

•     Does he believe that the synod would have benefitted by hearing from the voices of gay people and divorced couples?

It may have been. I know that when I did the consultation in my diocese I did have those voices as part of my consultation and put that in my report, so maybe that was how [those voices were] represented. But I do think we could benefit from the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having it filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops. There’s something important about that, I have found personally. 

•     what does he think of the proposal that some decisions on pastoral issues could be devolved onto regional or local bishops’ conferences?

Well, I would like to give a bit more thought to that. I think that as the diocesan bishop I would like to be able to make sure that what I do is in conformity not just with the Church in my nation  but also the universal Church, but also recognising that I have specific needs in my own diocese. We don’t want to create national Churches. However we do have particular law for national churches already. Hence, for example, the Essential Norms for the protection of children. Those are approved by the Holy See but they are national norms for us. We also have a national norm with regard to … Every bishop has to submit to their metropolitan their financial audited reports on an annual basis. So there is a function which a bishops conference can offer but when it comes to these other questions I'd like to give a little more thought to see how that would work to make sure that we don't just create policy on very sensitive issues on a national level, but we do it with the conformity of the church universal but give the respectful autonomy to the diocesan Bishop. 

•     What is your view of the Kasper proposal to admit to the sacraments divorced and remarried people? 

Let me point out something about Cardinal Kasper’s [proposal]. That was proposed in his talk to the cardinals. And it is the last chapter of I think five chapters in which he spelt out the theology of the family. I say that because sometimes when they refer to what Cardinal Kasper said to the cardinals they only go after that. I encourage people to look at the whole development of how he gets there.

So I really do find his treatment of what he calls the Gospel of the Family — it's published in a book, and I gave it, by the way, to all my priests; I wanted them to read it because is very rich theologically. In the last chapter he offers a proposal of how we can accompany with the mercy of God, with the background of the theology and he developed, he comes to these proposals. I think he has reasoned this proposal well given the theology that he offers; I do think that we should look at a way in which people are not just accompanied but integrated and reconciled. But at the same time other bishops have stood up and offered their penitential pathway. Bishop Gonzalez of Puerto Rico for instance and the German bishops have their own take on it and other bishops as well. I am open to looking at all of it and I do think that 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. I really did like the two motu proprios that the Pope released. I think that's going to be enormously helpful to us and I'm going to see if that's a way in which we can do that. But we have to believe in the mercy of God and the grace of God to trigger conversion rather than having it the other way around as though you're only going to get the mercy if you have had the conversion. The economy of salvation doesn't work that way. Christ receives people, and it’s because of that mercy that conversion happens many many times in the Scriptures.  And I think that's worth looking at. That's my experience.

There was a priest who told me some years ago that he was doing a funeral for a young man who had committed suicide. He was in his 20s. And the mother came forward for communion. Now she was divorced and remarried and she came forward for a blessing. This woman was very angry with God about her son taking his life, mad at the church, but she still came forward. And the pastor said to her, “No, today you have to receive.” She went back to her pew and wept uncontrollably. She then came back to visit with the priest and began reconciliation. She began the process, she didn't want to deal with the annulment thing, she didn't want anything to do with the church, but she began. And her heart was changed. She did have her marriage annulled; her marriage is now in the church.  But it was because that priest looked for mercy, grace, to touch her heart. And that's something we need to keep in mind. I think the Holy Father has talked about that. It's not a straight line. 

•     What is your most abiding impression of the synod?

It’s the Holy Father, it’s just seeing him there, listening attentively, nodding once in a while. But he is very attentive to what is happening. He comes and mixes with us during the coffee break. H seems very joyful, very much at peace; that's why any of the tensions that people talk about, or the fears and anxieties … you wouldn’t think this pope didn’t have a care in the world. He's a man who is really very much at peace. Cardinal George, of happy memory, was asked at his 50th anniversary celebration to describe the Pope. he said: “He’s really free.” Well that's coming out to me. The thing I'm coming away with is that it's a great privilege to be in the presence of a wonderful man who cares about and loves the church and is very free to let people speak their minds, and who believes in the power of the holy spirit to lead the church. That gives me great confidence and that's what I take away.