The following Synod on the Family interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput was conducted by email in Rome on October 15 by Samuel Pruvot of the French Catholic magazine Famille Chretienne (FC). It’s used here with the kind permission of the FC editors, who retain the copyright.
FC: During the first week of the synod, many small groups mentioned the problem of gender theory, but this topic is not very prominent in the English-speaking groups. Why?
Cardinal Thomas Collins’ group, English circle D, did briefly mention gender theory, which is deeply anti-nature and anti-human in its implications. But the scope of the working document is large, and its flaws are many. So there just hasn’t been time to focus properly on that important issue.
FC: Some synod fathers have suggested that more power might be given to bishops’ conferences, in particular concerning the problem of divorced and remarried Catholics. What is your opinion about this?
It’s not a good idea. We live in a confused time. It’s an age of conflict and disruptive social forces. The Church needs unity in her doctrine and practices, not fragmentation. Cardinal [George] Pell is right about the imprudence of delegating decisions like sacramental discipline to local bishops or bishops’ conferences. Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried is a perfect example. What amounts to a sacrilege for a person in one country can’t be a source of grace for exactly the same person in another country.
FC: Cardinal Dolan mentioned on his blog that “a new minority” needs the support of the synod. This minority is made of Christian families who are devoted, faithful, practicing and exposed to mockery. What do you think?
Reaching out to alienated groups like persons with same-sex attraction is important. But our first priority needs to be the families and married couples who really believe in Jesus Christ and already live their faith vigorously. Going to the peripheries can’t be done unless we first nourish the faithful people who provide the cornerstone of our Church life. So Cardinal Dolan’s comments were articulate and very valuable.
FC: Some think that the Church should leave more space for personal conscience. That would help the faithful to overcome the “obstacles” –– so they say –– which the Church creates for them on the question of birth-control or the sacraments (Reconciliation and Communion) for divorced and remarried couples. What is your opinion?
Each of us has the duty to follow his or her conscience. But conscience doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s more than a matter of personal opinion or preference. The Church is not a collection of sovereign individuals. We’re a community, a family, organized around the person of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. We have an obligation to form our consciences in the truth. That means we need to allow ourselves to be guided by the wisdom and teaching of the Church that Jesus founded.
If my conscience disagrees with the guidance of the Church on a matter of moral substance, it’s probably not the Church that is wrong. Human beings – all of us – are very adroit at making excuses for what we want to do, whether it’s sinful or not.
FC: Why do you recommend that we should start our pastoral reasoning from Jesus and the Scriptures rather than a sound analysis of the difficulties that today’ families are facing?
If we really believe in Jesus Christ – if he’s a living, daily reality for us, and not just the source of a good moral system – then he’s the center and meaning of history, the Alpha and the Omega. “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We need to begin at the beginning, in the embodied love of God who is Jesus Christ. If we don’t start with Jesus and the Scriptures, then the social problems and challenges that exist in every century will always overwhelm us.
We can only begin to hope, and we can only start to think clearly, when we believe in Jesus Christ and know that we’re loved by God. We’ll never have serenity if we start anywhere else.
FC: Would you agree that very little is said in the Instrumentum Laboris about Catholic families who are really trying to remain faithful to the Gospel?
Yes, as I suggested earlier, the synod’s working document is weak in its attention to faithful families. But there’s more. I’ve been surprised by how little the synod text says about the joys of having children, and especially the beauty and heroic witness of large families. Children are the future. They’re a gift from God. They renew the world. It’s sad to see so many couples today cheat themselves out of more love and more joy by having only two children. Life is meant to be an adventure, to be abundant – not to be strangled by worry. God provides. He never abandons hearts that are generous. I have tremendous esteem for large families. I wish we had many more of them. They’re the hope of the Church.
FC: Why do you think that there is a risk of considering today’s social problems through too much of a Western lens?
The Church is alive and growing across most of the Southern Hemisphere. Catholics of the global South naturally have a different perspective on the world. They see the needs of the Church through fresh eyes, without the pessimism so common in Europe and even North America. We should never discount the wisdom and learned lessons of the Church in the North. But we do need to expand our thinking to include the experience of Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America. In a sense, that’s where the Church of the future lies.
FC: The message of the Gospel concerning couples and families is very demanding. How can this message reach the “peripheries” on which the Pope insists?
We need to be careful not to defeat ourselves. Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 11:30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Married life can be demanding. So can every other vocation in Christian life. That’s obvious. But the rewards of unselfish love are always greater than the cost. Ask any parents of a child with Down syndrome. In the eyes of the world, they have a child who is “disabled.” In the eyes of the mother and father, they have a child who is a miracle and a mystery.
Geography and distance are only one way of thinking about the peripheries. The real unexplored, unconverted territories lie much closer to home – in the way we treat our families, our friends, the poor, the sick and the elderly in our own neighborhoods. The darkest periphery is the point in our hearts where our generosity ends. And, at the same time, there’s no more powerful witness anywhere on earth than an ordinary Catholic family radiating the love of God. With enough of those families, God could rebuild the world.
FC: Following the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, how can the spirit of this event be maintained?
Big events always have an emotional high that subsides over the following months. That’s normal. The same will happen in Philadelphia. But a lot of people were uniquely moved by the World Meeting of Families, and many of them will remember and keep the experience alive in their hearts. God gave us the raw material of a wonderful success. My job after the synod is to help our priests and people turn that gift into a lasting renewal of our local Church. So please ask your readers to keep us in their prayers!