Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the US Catholic bishops, sat down for a brief chat with the Register at the end of the first day of the Ordinary Synod on the Family. 

The Archbishop of Louisville, KY, shared his first impressions of the meeting, possible problems with the new methodology, and how he valued Cardinal Peter Erdo's introductory relatio for the synod. He also echoed the Pope's words that the synod isn't a parliament but a communion of bishops which allows a "certain level of trust." 

Your Excellency, what have been your first impressions of the synod?

Basically positive. I’m entering the synod with a very spiritual mindset. The Holy Father is basically saying to all of us, speak frankly but seek what God might be inspiring us to say for the sake of the Church and the family. Listen to one another, and be open to the holy Spirit.

So I’m very positive. One of the things that is positive is that we start in small groups tomorrow (Tuesday). The large group [discussions] are something of a desert, they can be rather tedious after a while, so moving into small groups will allow us to be engaged in some aspects of the Instrumentum Laboris [working document] – obviously the parts that we like and the parts that we think need improvement.

I don’t want to say there’s nothing to talk about – of course there will be. So we did get our small group divisions and we know that the results of the small groups at the end of each week will be made public which will be good for all of you and really good for all of us to be honest with you.

There were a lot of concerns about the last synod and how the teaching seemed up for grabs, and the general confusion people have talked about. Would you like to say something to allay those fears?

Well at the end of first day of the 21 days, I’d be foolish to say I can look into the future and know every turn that occurs. But I can say this: I came away from the synod last year with a pretty good confidence in the final relatio. I didn’t think it was perfect, I thought it could be improved, but I did feel it served the Church well and so in many ways that gives me some confidence that the synodal process will move forward.

I’m going to do exactly what our Holy Father invites us to do: speak up and listen and hopefully trust in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are a lot of questions on the modalities because since it is new, we’re going to have small groups at the end - basically going to have small groups at the end of the three weeks. I still have questions as to exactly how it’s going to lead up to votes. I still don’t have a lot of those answers. I don’t think any of the synod fathers fully have those, but I think we’re going to have those clarified at the end of the first week.

So is there some concern about the methodology among the synod fathers?

Not a concern, but whenever you do something new, there’s a certain uncertainty about that. I just want to I guess ensure as every synod father would, that the proposals, or at least the document that we end up approving to give to our Holy Father, is the best possible one to serve the Church.

You heard what our Holy Father said this morning: he said remember, this is not a parliament. We are in communion with one another and so there really is a certain level of trust that I enter into, trust also that we do need to speak frankly and I intend and I hope every synod father would intend to do that.

And there’s enough transparency?

I think so. It’s early to say so in the process. Certainly these synod documents talk about doing what we’re doing right now, to feel free to speak both within the synod and outside. We’re asked wisely not to be quoting what others say in the synod. They’re saying it as part of the development but I would say in general I feel pretty good.

You said at the last synod you would have preferred to have the names of those speaking made public. Is that still your view?

I would have like to have seen each document. I’m going back to the only synod I attended, so I guessed we’d do this all the time. Like my first bicycle, I liked that too. So the synod on the new eangelization, not only did I give an intervention but I gave a summary and that was what was published. So naturally that’s what I compared it to. I think at this point I’m pleased with the process we went through with small groups especially last year, and I’m pleased they were made public and they will be made public again, so that to me is a very significant of what you would call transparency.

Regarding the commission chosen to draft the final document, people have criticized that because you have Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and Archbishop Bruno Forte on there who were pushing an agenda at the last synod, and I think over half of those on the commission like to challenge established Church teaching. Is that a concern of yours and synod fathers? 

I would approach it positively. I would approach it from the viewpoint that, just as last year, not only did we talk in the synod talk about the content, but we also talked about the process. We had 14 days, this time we have 21 so we should do better. So through the 21 days I should imagine we’d have conversations both about the content and the process. I think last year I felt it resulted very positively and I think it was of great service to our Holy Father who of course wants to be true to Christ and his teachings as we serve others. I’m approaching it with a certain enthusiasm, I’m happy to say that.

On Cardinal Erdo’s introductory speech – someone said it was a game changer in that it "probably changed the direction of the synod." Is that your view, too?

I’m not sure if that’s the case. I thought he gave a good summary and gave a good, substantial direction. That relatio is meant to be of service, as the Instrumentum Laboris is. The Instrumentum Laboris is meant to be the primary document and we’ll look at it, but his relatio as well as all his interventions today are meant to enrich the conversations. I liked it, I thought it was a good direction.

And regarding the possibility of no post-synodal apostolic exhortation?

That didn’t’ come up today and so I’m eager to find that out. I’d welcome it because I look over last number of years, including Evangelii Gaudium, even though I understand it was influenced by things other than the synod on evangelization. But I find that good, if someone has a better idea,  I’m open to that too. The key is how will the work of the synod enrich the Church? How will it in this case enrich families, make us more deeply grounded in Christ. I think the Holy Father says it’s not an adolescent utopia but God’s dream. I thought it was beautiful. And I think we all, young and old, need to have confidence in God’s dream.