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Philly Archbishop: Synod Text Is ‘Dense Social Science’ with ‘Little Evangelical Zeal’

Pope Francis
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has issued a damning indictment of the document guiding discussions for the Vatican synod of bishops, saying the text is long on sociological data and short on Christian message.

The synod’s instrumentum laboris (working document) “is a collection of dense social science data with very little evangelical zeal,” the archbishop told Polish journalist Adam Sosnowski in an interview this week.

The Church “needs to acknowledge that the culture she helped create now has no use for her — and why,” Chaput said. “As a Church, we don’t yet see reality clearly and critically enough.”

According to the archbishop, the current synod, dedicated to the theme of young people in the Church, is missing the mark because it fails to convincingly articulate the Good News that Christianity has to offer.

The current synod text “talks about young people and the effects of social media and the ‘digital continent,’” he said, but has no grasp of the “deeper dynamics of technology.”

The instrumentum laboris (IL) “speaks constantly about accompaniment, which is important, but it has almost no confident teaching,” he said. “It can’t and won’t convert anybody.”

The solution, Chaput proposes, is greater honesty and transparency, along with greater confidence in the message of the gospel.

“The scandal triggered by Archbishop McCarrick has done great damage, especially to the credibility of bishops,” he said. “The only way we can repair that is by being absolutely transparent and honest about the scope of the abuse problem and our efforts to address it.”

The archbishop also reiterated the fact that the synod is a consultative body with no authority over doctrine, which is the deposit of faith handed on from generation to generation and not constantly reinvented or put up for reconsideration.

“No synod has the authority to change core Christian teachings; nor does any Pope,” Chaput said.

The doctrine in question, at least tacitly, is the question of Christian moral teaching regarding human sexuality, he added.

“In matters of interpretation, the unstated struggle in the 2018 synod revolves around Catholic sexual morality,” he said.

“It’s especially odd that the word ‘chastity’ appears almost nowhere in the IL text,” he said. “Humanae vitae and the theology of the body are completely absent.”

Catholic teaching on human sexuality must be “faithfully explained and reconfirmed without compromise or ambiguity,” he said. “And that’s exactly where elements of the IL are regrettably weak.”

“‘LGBT’ should never be used in a Church document to describe people,” he added. “The Church has never identified persons by their sexual appetites, or reduced them to their sexual inclinations.”

“‘LBGT’ may be acceptable in describing issues, but not people,” he said.

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