Archbishop Chaput tells synod to announce Christ not ‘ideologies and social sciences’

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Pope Francis greets Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in Vatican City during the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Sq Credit: L'Osservatore Romano

Archbishop Charles Chaput told the Synod of Bishops that the confidence to announce the truth of the faith is essential to the Church’s mission, and especially her service to young people.

Chaput delivered his three minute intervention Oct. 4 during the fifteenth ordinary general session of the Synod of Bishops, taking place in Rome and treating the issues of young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.

“Who we are as creatures, what it means to be human, why we should imagine we have any special dignity at all – these are the chronic questions behind all our anxieties and conflicts,” Chaput told the assembly. “And the answer to all of them will not be found in ideologies or the social sciences, but only in the person of Jesus Christ, redeemer of man.”

The archbishop pointed out to the synod that in order to either proclaim or accept Christ with sincerity, “we need to understand, at the deepest level, why we need to be redeemed in the first place.

The Archbishop of Philadelphia was elected as a member of the permanent council of the synod by the attendees at the last session in 2015. He was additionally chosen by the bishops of the United States to form part of the American delegation, placing him in the unusual position of having been elected to attend the synod twice.

He told the assembly that the if the Church did not evangelise the world, and especially the young, “without hesitation or excuses,” it “just another purveyor of ethical pieties the world doesn’t need.”

Chaput’s intervention cut across many of the themes and controversies discussed in the run up to the synod.

The archbishop centered his remarks on the working document on which the sessions will be based, pointing out that the instrumentum laboris did a good job of describing the anthropological and cultural challenges facing young people.

As part of the pre-synodal preparations, many of the young people consulted as part of the drafting of the instrumentum underscored their desire to be seen as “leaders” in their communities. But Chaput pointedly disagreed with the document’s characterization of young people as the “watchmen and seismographs of every age,” which he called “false flattery.”

“In reality, young people are too often products of the age, shaped in part by the words, the love, the confidence, and the witness of their parents and teachers, but more profoundly today by a culture that is both deeply appealing and essentially atheist,” Chaput said.

It is the perennial task of the Church’s elders to pass on the faith to the young, Chaput noted. He told the synod that a generation of leaders - in the Church and in families - had abdicated their responsibility to pass on the truth of the Gospel “undamaged by compromise or deformation.” This, he said, was the result of a combination of “ignorance, cowardice and laziness in forming young people to carry the faith into the future.”

Chaput linked the failure to embrace the generational responsibility for authentic formation to the recent sexual abuse crises which have rocked the Church.

“The clergy sexual abuse crisis is precisely a result of the self-indulgence and confusion introduced into the Church in my lifetime, even among those tasked with teaching and leading.  And minors – our young people – have paid the price for it.”

Chaput ended his remarks by strongly opposing efforts made by lobby groups outside the synod, and by some in the synod’s Secretariat itself, to adopt so-called LGBT language in the synod’s documents and debates.

The synod preparatory document highlighted that some young people disagreed with the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, and suggested an emphasis on “dialoguing” with those Catholics with dissenting views 

The archbishop proposed a more robust approach.

“There is no such thing as an ‘LGBTQ Catholic’ or a ‘transgender Catholic’ or a ‘heterosexual Catholic,’” he told the synod, “as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ.”

“This has never been true in the life of the Church, and is not true now.  It follows that “LGBTQ” and similar language should not be used in Church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the Church simply doesn’t categorize people that way.”

Instead, Chaput urged synod participants to favor the unifying truths of the faith over inherently divisive distinctions.

“Explaining why Catholic teaching about human sexuality is true, and why it’s ennobling and merciful, seems crucial to any discussion of anthropological issues.  Yet it’s regrettably missing from [the synod’s working document]. I hope revisions by the Synod Fathers can address that.”

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