Contrasting views amongst American Synod delegates

August 13, 2015
Source: District of the USA

What are the views of the delegates chosen to represent the United States at the Synod on the Family?

A few days ago, the announcement was made by the Vatican that amongst the representatives from America for this October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Archbishop Blase Cupich of the Chicago Archdiocese was raised from an alternate to an actual delegate.

The delegates were chosen in a private voting session held during the November 2014 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCBB), who currently consist of:

  • Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville (also the USCCB President),
  • Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (also the USCCB Vice-President),
  • Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (also hosting the 2015 World Meeting of Families),
  • Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles,
  • and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago.

There also remains an elected alternate delegate, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who serves as the chairman of the USCCB’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. [See the image gallery below for their portraits]

America’s delegates to the Synod have been described by USA Catholic[1] as “a mixed slate” which include “outspoken culture warriors who are sometimes viewed as out of step with Pope Francis’ priorities.” Significantly, the “contrasts” amongst the group of bishops were especially seen amongst the initial two alternate delegates:

…San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the hierarchy’s outspoken point man in the fight against gay marriage, and Bishop Blase Cupich, a moderate and a strong social justice proponent.”

The previously mentioned contrasting views amongst the Synodal delegates can be readily seen when comparing recent statements made by the bishops.

Firstly from Archbishop Cupich during a long interview with Commonweal[2]:

The pope has a firm belief that the spirit of the risen Lord is working in our midst and is alive in the hearts of people—and we cannot squelch that voice. We have to look for ways to listen to how the Lord is working in the lives of people. That’s why the pope said to the synod fathers, ‘Don’t come to the synod and say ‘You can’t say that’’—because it may be the spirit of Christ who is calling us to say these things. And we have to listen to that.


…we have to unpack this notion of the theology of the family. Cardinal Walter Kasper gave a talk about this to the cardinals last year, which has been published as a book called The Gospel of the Family. In Spokane [September 2014], I gave all my priests a copy. Then I brought in a priest who knows Cardinal Kasper’s theology quite well…, and he helped them understand what Kasper is saying. …I hope to do something like that as well in Chicago.”

And on the Vatican Radio[3] in response to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling:

That has no impact at all on our understanding of marriage, being not only a union between a man and a woman, but also a symbol of Christ and his Church. So I think it’s important to recognize that the civil society for a long time has not had the same understanding of marriage that we have in the Church. Easy divorce, for instance, takes away from the commitment that we ask people to make in marriage as a lifelong commitment of fidelity. This is a significant movement, however. But it’s not the first that we have seen a difference between a civil marriage and church marriage.”

On the other hand, Archbishop Cordileone’s support for the sacrament of marriage and the family is well-known causing him to be included by The Washington Times amongst the “Top US bishops unwavering in support of traditional marriage ahead of Synod”[4] while citing some of his statements made during a EWTN News Nightly interview:

We support marriage because of the great good marriage does in bringing men and women together, two halves of humanity coming together to procreate and raise the next generation of children. 

So the basic question is, does society need an institution that connects children to the men and the women that bring them into the world, or not? Is that a good thing for children or not? If it is a good thing, then we have to support marriage as it’s always been understood …because it’s the only institution that does that.

We must publicize and demonstrate the beauty of marriage and family life, support those families who are struggling, and uphold strong families as examples.”

With the announcement of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, the USCCB’s president and Synod delegate, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, made an official statement about the judicial decision:[5]

It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.


The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female.”

Archbishop Kurtz’s reassuring affirmations of Catholic teaching continue but are intersected with this sentence that relies on ambiguity in matters of moral theology:

The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the ‘integral ecology’ that Pope Francis has called us to promote.”

But Archbishop Kurtz picks up the traditional line again:

Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow Our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.

I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.”

Indeed even before the Supreme Court’s decision, Archbishop Kurtz warned Catholics:

We have not cultivated the basis for sacrificial love but have, in a sense, fallen victims of a culture that tends to talk about adult choices and options.”[6]

Following the first session of the Synod on the Family in October 2014, Archbishop Kurtz responded during an interview with National Catholic Register entitled “Mercy without Truth is not Mercy”:[7]

NCR: But doesn’t loving also mean telling them the truth? For example, telling someone they might be living in mortal sin and explaining the law of gradualism, which, as I understand it, means making a break with sin and then gradually working towards holiness.

Kurtz: It does, and you’re absolutely right. I guess the best place that I saw, where we took it up, was to make sure we don’t have any false divide between mercy and truth. They are one.

In other words, mercy is the best path to truth, and mercy without truth is not mercy. There has been great discussion and even some amendments that have talked about that importance.


NCR: A lot has been said about doctrine and that it won’t be changed, but that it is possible to change pastoral practice. Cardinal Raymond Burke says it’s a false dichotomy: You cannot have one without the other, and practice must serve doctrine. What’s your view on this?

Kurtz …If there is not integrity in …what we believe and how we provide pastoral practice, it will break down. What I have called for, in any amendments that I was able to provide, was to make sure that any creative pastoral practice being considered would be firmly grounded in good, solid theology.

NCR: The issue of language and changing language—removing words like “living in sin,” “intrinsically disordered” and “contraceptive mentality”—was raised at the synod. It’s said that’s a change in pastoral practice that doesn’t serve doctrine, because you’re taking away half the truth, as it were, that you’re softening it. What do you say to this?

Kurtz: Well, Familiaris Consortio [Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation of 1981], I don’t think, used the words or phrase “living in sin.” I would consider Familiaris Consortio a very solid document of pastoral praxis. I would make a distinction: The kerygma—namely, repent and believe in the Good News, the thing that always accompanies the giving of ashes on Ash Wednesday—that is the kerygma of Jesus Christ, and we cannot water down or change that kerygma.


We have to lead them to Christ. We would not do them a service if somehow we hid or watered down the truth. You’re absolutely right about that, but I would say that, in my own pastoral practice, there were different ways I would approach someone. I would eventually get to that process, but I would deal with what I thought would first touch their hearts and bring them [to openness to the faith]. And I think that’s what a good pastor has always done, don’t you?”

And in answer during the Crux interview[8] on “how the Church should promote its sometimes-controversial teachings”:

'I would then invite them to follow Christ, and I’d offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way,' he said. 'Such an approach isn’t in opposition to Church teachings; it’s an affirmation of them.'"

But reading the “Reflections on Synod” of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo,[9] one receives the impression that nothing objectionable to the Catholic moral teachings occurred during the 2014 proceedings in Rome:

Although the press has reported more on debate and polemics relative to a few issues that are a part of the discussions, particularly the question of the admission of some divorced and remarried persons after a period of penance to the reception of Holy Communion, the main thrust of the preparatory document for this mini-synod is about the importance of the family for the culture at large and for the Church herself.

From the beginnings of the Faith in the early Church and the texts of the New Testament through the teaching of the Faith in the Church and in the lived richness of family life—and its difficulties and challenges—throughout history, the great beauty and power of marriage and the family has shown its truth and needs to be celebrated now.


Pope Francis has invited the whole Church to spend these 2 years in prayer and contemplation, in discussion and action, on the meaning of the family. He asks us to engage in this process without rancor and with a spirit of listening to one another. This assists the teaching office of the Church in its deliberations about recommendations for the up building of family life within the Church; that will have a genuine effect on the world.

Beyond the process of deliberation, what really counts is our own seeking of God's grace and good human advice so as to live the rich mystery of marriage and the family. It is my hope that this will be the norm and practice of this Archdiocese in the days ahead.”

Contradicting this rather optimistic view of the 2014 Synod on the Family though is Archbishop Charles Chaput who said:

I was very disturbed by what happened. I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”[10]

Continuing about the Synod’s final report,[11] Archbishop Chaput thought that it “was an improvement” however, “he was still concerned that it did not go far enough in clearing up the confusion and clearly restating church teachings on marriage and homosexuality.”

'None of us are welcomed on our own terms in the church. We are welcomed on Jesus’ terms,' he said. 'That’s what it means to be a Christian. You submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching. You don’t re-create your own body of spirituality.'”

From San Francisco Archbishop Jose Gomez, little has been heard concerning the Synod itself, save to encourage the members of his archdiocese to take the pre-Synod survey and offer prayers and Eucharistic adoration for its success.

Some news sources have pegged Archbishop Gomez as a “conservative” on marriage and family issues. This appellation seems to have partially stemmed from his suspension of a diocesan priest in 2012 who was publicly promoting gay marriage—and this in what has been considered “one of the most pro-homosexual archdioceses in the western world”.[12] Other reasons probably include his homilies that have touched on pro-life and family issues as well as his statement made after the Supreme Court’s ruling:[13]

Obergefell v. Hodges is one more sign that we have entered into a ‘post-Christian,’ even perhaps an ‘anti-Christian’ moment in American public life.

But on a deeper level, the decision reflects the crisis in our society’s understanding of creation and the human person.


Our society needs to hear the beautiful truth about the human person and God’s plan for creation—a plan that is centered in the family, in husbands and wives and children. This is still our duty. And we are called to carry out that duty with love and respect for everyone, with no exceptions and no excuses.


But in the truth of creation, marriage always points to new creation—to new life, to the beauty of children born in the image of their parents and in the image of God.


Let us keep building a family culture and a marriage culture—remembering that holy lives, good marriages, and strong families can change the world."

The collection of these quotes from the American synodal delegates certainly confirms the affirmation that they have a “mix slate” of views, or approaches, to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, particularly in regards to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family.


1 The following quotes are from the USA Catholic article of November 14, 2014: “Bishops send new delegates, mixed message, to 2015 Vatican family synod”.

2 Commonweal, "A Listening Church", on January 22, 2015: “An Interview With Archbishop Blase Cupich”.

3 Vatican Radio on June 30, 2015: “Archbishop Cupich: civil marriage not a sacrament”.

4 Title of The Washington Times article published on June 17, 2015.

5 National Catholic Register article of June 26, 2015: “US Bishops on Marriage Decision: ‘A Tragic Error’”.

6 National Catholic Register article of April 27, 2015: “Archbishop Kurtz: Society Has Taken Marriage for Granted for Too Long”.

7 National Catholic Register article of October 30, 2014: “Archbishop Kurtz on the Synod: ‘Mercy Without Truth Is Not Mercy’”.

8 Crux article of November 10, 2014: “Archbishop Kurtz lays out vision for USCCB presidency, synod preparation”.

9 Zenit article of November 6, 2014: “Cardinal DiNardo's Reflections on Synod”.

10 LifeSiteNews article of February 2, 2015: “Vatican’s first list of 2015 Synod bishops includes some strong voices for life and family”.

11 The following citations are taken from the Religion News article of October 21, 2014: “Archbishop Chaput ‘disturbed’ by Vatican synod debate, says ‘confusion is of the devil’”.

12 Quoted from the LifeSiteNews article of February 2, 2015: “Vatican’s first list of 2015 Synod bishops includes some strong voices for life and family”.

13 Cited from his commentary published in the Catholic News Agency article of July 2, 2015: “Creation and the future of marriage”.