Yesterday, at the Synod on Young People in Rome, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. of Philadelphia gave two interventions that included specific criticisms of the Instrumentum Laboris – the working document for the synod — and some observations about the “moral adolescence” found in developed countries. Archbishop Chaput graciously responded this morning to some questions sent by Catholic World Report about his interventions and the Synod.
CWR: In response to your remarks about “LGBT Catholics,” Fr. James Martin, S.J., argued, via Twitter, that because we refer to “Latino Catholics” and “Young Adult Catholics”, we shouldn’t object to other descriptives. How do you respond?
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: That kind of equivalence is both easy and wrong.
There’s nothing morally problematic about being Irish or Latino, or elderly or young. These are external descriptors. They vary, and they can affect how we see the world and act in it, but they don’t fundamentally shape who the human person is.
There’s also nothing morally problematic about having same-sex or opposite-sex inclinations. But sex is a unique sort of category. Issues of sexual desire, and especially behavior, go to the heart of human identity. They involve the purpose of the body, what we mean by “human nature,” the complementary wholeness of the human species, and the transmission of life. So they have big implications for the truth or falsehood of Scripture and Catholic belief.
The Church needs to be very careful to avoid fracturing human identity according to our sexual appetites. “LGBTQ” Catholics implies a special moral category in a determinist way that “African” Catholics does not.
CWR: You criticized a sort of “flattery” being used at times in the working document, referring to a sense in which youth are viewed as having some sort of special abilities or insights not available to others. Do you sense this sort of approach so far in the synod itself? Is there, in your view, a better approach in addressing youth?
Archbishop Chaput: Most of the Synod Fathers are sensible men who understand the strengths and limitations that go with being young. One of the strengths is a keen sense of smell for obsequious praise. Young people see it as insincere or weak. I think the instrumentum as it stands is strong on analysis and listening. But it’s too dense and ambiguous to feed or inspire anyone. It lacks zeal.
Listening is important, and we do need to listen to young people. All people, no matter what their age, long to be heard. But St. Paul didn’t decide to “listen” for a year when he got to Corinth. His faith wouldn’t let him wait. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”; that was the fire in his heart. He had the kind of absolute confidence that led him to preach Jesus Christ from day one—a Christ both insisting on radical conversion, but liberating the soul precisely because of that conversion—whether people accepted or rejected him.
We need to listen to the world in order to convert it at its roots; not to be converted or compromised by it. That clarity and urgency of Christian mission are missing from the current text. Our discussions in the synod will fail unless we recover them.
CWR: It’s only two days in, but how would you assess the synod so far? What are some themes or points of focus coming to the fore?
Archbishop Chaput: I had a number of bishops from India, Africa, Peru, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere thank me for flagging the problems involved with language like “LGBTQ Catholics.” There’s a general sense so far that the instrumentum needs to be more explicitly evangelical. But we’re still early in the discussions, and a lot of the delegates are just getting their bearings.
CWR: How do you respond to Cardinal Baldisseri’s questioning your critique of the synod working document [published by First Things last month]? He said that you should have voiced these concerns during the drafting process, and implied that your public criticism lacks “loyalty and honesty.”
Archbishop Chaput: What someone says in a moment of annoyance, and what he does in person, can be two different things. Cardinal Baldisseri greeted me very warmly. The Holy Father has been relaxed and very welcoming. So people looking for conflict will probably be disappointed.
The instrumentum’s drafting process does need improvement. I’m glad the theological critiques that preceded the synod pushed that into public discussion. The synod’s permanent council members received the final draft of the instrumentum laboris very late, and only in Italian. That needs to change. Even if we had received the text in English, there was no time to adequately study the content and suggest changes. Cardinal Baldisseri surely knows that in retrospect. I hope synod leadership will respond with a better process in the future.