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Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput speaks at a Vatican press briefing for the Synod on the Family on October 7, 2015.Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

ROME, October 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — Fresh off of the World Meeting of Families, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput gave a strong intervention at the Vatican’s family synod this week, warning that the meeting’s working text risks “compromise” with sin.

The working text, known as the Instrumentum Laboris, was written by the Synod’s organizing body following last year’s Extraordinary Synod and forms the basis of the Synod’s work. As a result, it is highly influential on the final outcome of the meeting. The bulk of the three weeks is devoted to discussing this text line-by-line in small groups, divided by language.

“[O]verall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.”

In Chaput’s three-minute speech on Wednesday to the full Synod body, which he published on the website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s newspaper, he said the Instrumentum Laboris describes well the “condition of today’s families,” but lacks confidence in families’ ability to actually live the Church’s teaching.

“[O]verall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church,” he said. “The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.”

“We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors,” he continued. “Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman.”

“This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection,” he concluded.

Voice of the Family, an international coalition of pro-life and pro-family organizations, published an analysis of the Instrumentum Laboris in August, warning that it “poses a very real danger to the family.” They indicated, for example, that the document contains passages that undermine Humanae Vitae, parental rights, and the prohibition on cohabitation and same-sex unions.

An appeal by over 60 theologians last month shared the concern about the paragraph on Humanae Vitae. The open letter, organized by professors at the John Paul II Institutes on Marriage and Family, said the passage “contradicts” Catholic teaching against the “intrinsically evil act” of using contraception, and urged the pope to delete it.

'Let’s make sure that we encourage the 99 sheep'

Chaput echoed some of his concerns with the Instrumentum Laboris at the Vatican’s press conference on Wednesday.  He told reporters that the Instrumentum Laboris “has a tendency to get caught up in a bit of despair about what the Church teaches and whether people can live it.”

“Let’s not be afraid and let’s make sure that we encourage the 99 sheep,” while seeking the one lost sheep, he said.

The archbishop also said that he and other Synod fathers have a concern about the fact that the definitive version of the final document of the Synod will be in Italian, so they will have to vote on it based on a translation. Translations of Church documents have not always been accurate, he noted.


Amid calls for the Church to adopt a more “welcoming” language in expressing its doctrine, the archbishop agreed with a reporter from Zenit that there is a legitimate concern that such a new language could leave the door open for reinterpretation by politicians or activists.

He said some bishops in his small group were quite concerned about phrasing and wanted to go through the working text word by word. “We were worried about what does this word mean,” and whether it could “be used against the Church rather than in favour of the Church.”

“The language is a big issue, but it’s not just sensitivity to the world, it’s also sensitivity to the Gospel, and the truth of the Gospel,” he added.

Another concern Chaput said he and others had with the working text was a tendency to focus on Western problems. “Does the document really reflect the experience of the universal Church or is it too much of a Western European, northern hemisphere kind of document? There was some discussion of that this morning,” he said.

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Commenting on the idea of allowing regional solutions to pastoral challenges, Chaput said, “The Catholic Church is described as Catholic in terms of, it reaches everywhere and out to everyone. But also it believes the same thing everywhere.”

Some Church practices can be adapted at local levels, “in dialogue between the Holy See and the local Church,” he continued. “At the same time, diversity is always in the service of unity in the Catholic Church.” So, he said, it would not be “appropriate for individual bishops’ conferences to decide matters of doctrine. … We have to be very careful of that as we also be careful of respecting the individual character of the local Church.”

Chaput related Pope Francis’ message to Synod fathers that they should not think of each other as “conspiring” against one another, but the archbishop also noted that he welcomed the contribution of “lobby” groups.

“I’ve never been at a Church meeting where there aren’t groups who get together and lobby for a particular direction, and that’s going on, I assure you,” he said. “That’s what happens when human beings get together.”

“We shouldn’t be scandalized or surprised by that, as long as it’s done honestly and not in a way that tries to win rather than to arrive at truth,” he continued. “We’re not here to win anything. We’re here to arrive at the truth that the Lord, through his Holy Spirit, is guiding the church towards.”


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