Synods are important events in the life of the Church, but nearly four weeks of discussing any subject can become wearying. It’s good to be home, and I’m grateful to all those who offered their prayers and support for the meeting’s success. As in the past, the bishops’ vote on the final document took place paragraph by paragraph, and like most of the delegates, I voted “yes” on most of the paragraphs.
The synod did have its problems: most notably an ambiguity of rules and process, and a lack of needed translations. But the final document, while not without its own flaws, is an improvement over the original instrumentum laboris text. Delegates also elected some good men to the synod’s permanent council. That has hopeful implications for the future.
Before we move on to more urgent matters as a local Church, though, I want to mention a few things as a matter of simple honesty. On October 27, in an interview with Frank Rocca of the Wall Street Journal, I said the following, and I want to repeat it here.
On the issue of sexual abuse of minors:
There was some good discussion [by the synod fathers] of the issue, though not enough, and the final synod document is frankly inadequate and disappointing on the abuse matter. Church leaders outside the United States and a few other countries dealing with the problem clearly don’t understand its scope and gravity. There’s very little sense of heartfelt apology in the text. And clericalism, for example, is part of the abuse problem, but it’s by no means the central issue for many laypeople, especially parents.
In regard to Church teaching on sexuality:
The key to all of the sexuality debates is anthropological. One of the subtle and concerning problems in the synod text at various stages [was] its references to a need for ‘deepening’ or ‘developing’ our understanding of anthropological issues. Obviously we can, and should, always bring more prayer and reflection to complicated human issues. But the Church already has a clear, rich, and articulate Christian anthropology. It’s unhelpful to create doubt or ambiguity around issues of human identity, purpose, and sexuality, unless one is setting the stage to change what the Church believes and teaches about all three, starting with sexuality.
In assessing the 2018 synod experience overall:
Many of the bishops were frustrated by the lack of advance translations for important issues they were expected to vote on. As one of the synod fathers argued, it’s actually immoral to vote ‘yes’ on significant issues if you can’t even read and reflect on what the text says. A lot of delegates were also surprised and unhappy with the introduction of synodality as a topic in a gathering themed to young people. It isn’t a natural fit. Synodality has serious implications. It deserves serious theological reflection and discussion among the bishops. That didn’t happen, which doesn’t seem consistent with a coming-together of Pope and bishops in a spirit of collegiality.
In the months ahead, I hope all of us in the American Catholic community will pray especially for the Holy Father, and also for the mission of the Church as she navigates the future.
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Philadelphia and a former member of the Synod of Bishops’ permanent council. His term ended at the conclusion of the 2018 synod.