VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, a papal delegate participating in the synod on the family, has said when it comes to giving holy Communion to civilly remarried divorcees, people need to “come to a decision in good conscience” and that the Church’s job is to “help them move forward and to respect that.”

“Conscience is inviolable,” the archbishop told reporters at the Vatican, “and we have to respect that when making decisions, and I’ve always done that.”

Asked if he would likewise accompany homosexual couples into receiving the sacraments according to their consciences, Archbishop Cupich replied: “Gay people are human beings, too; they have a conscience, and my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church.”

But he added that, “at the same time,” his role as a pastor is to help them “through a period of discernment, to understand what God is calling them to at that point, so it’s for everybody.”

“We have to be sure we don’t pigeonhole one group as though they’re not part of the human family, as though there’s a different set of rules for them,” he said. “That would be a big mistake.”

On both contentious issues — holy Communion for the divorced and remarried and for those in same-sex unions — the archbishop appeared to be essentially placing the importance of conscience above the Church’s teaching.

The Church teaches that the conscience must be “informed and moral judgment enlightened," a process that often takes a lifetime. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1801) also states that conscience “can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.”

“The word of God is a light for our path,” the Catechism continues. “We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.”

 

The Kasper Proposal

Asked about the Cardinal Kasper proposal to admit remarried divorcees to holy Communion, Archbishop Cupich urged those present to read all of the cardinal’s 2014 speech, in which he raises the proposal at the very end, so one can see “the development of how he gets there.” 

The Chicago prelate noted that he gave the text of the speech of Cardinal Kasper, which opened the synod’s deliberations and was later turned into a book called the Gospel of the Family, to all of his priests.

“We should look at ways in which people are not only accompanied, but integrated and reconciled,” Archbishop Cupich said, adding that he was “open to looking at all” proposals because “lots of people feel stuck, and we have to look for ways in which we’re going to reach out to them.”

He said he “really liked” Pope Francis’ two motu proprios on annulment reform announced in September, which will be “enormously helpful to us.”

“We have to believe in the mercy and grace of God to trigger conversion, rather than the other way around: that you’re only going to get the mercy if you have a conversion,” he said. “The economy of salvation doesn’t work that way. Christ receives people; because of that mercy, conversion happens.” He said this is shown “many, many times in Scriptures” and that that is worth looking at.

Also during the press meeting, the Chicago prelate said the “greatest contribution” the bishops can make towards families is to help the Church to “act and speak like families act and speak.” He added: “I want to make sure the full breadth of what the Church teaches is brought to bear on when we address these very delicate situations.”

He said he did not agree with the characterization of the synod as divided between the “Church and the anti-Church” — a phrase first coined by Pope St. John Paul II.

But he noted that the German synod fathers “have some very important voices that are well educated, and they bring that to the table. I listen to what they have to say, and I’m very respectful. They have a great theological tradition,” he said.

Asked what he thought about the presence of Cardinal Godfried Danneels as a papal delegate at the synod, despite accusations against him that he covered up a sex-abuse case and other serious transgressions, Archbishop Cupich said: “I don’t know anything about that, about how he was chosen or anything you’ve mentioned about his past. I don’t know anything about that.”

On the issue of language, he said it is “important to have general principles, categories, words from our Tradition and so on.” But he added that if one really wants to engage people, “they have to recognize that we know their life in the way we speak.” As an example, he said “indissolubility” is a word that means different things to different cultures and for some “signifies handcuffs.” Indissolubility is “too much of a juridical term to describe the richness and complexity of what marriage means for people in their culture,” he said.

Asked about whether he felt homosexual groups should have been invited to the synod, he said he included their voice “as part of my consultation and put them in my report,” but added that the synod “could benefit from the actual voices of people who feel marginalized, rather than filtered through representatives for the bishops.”

On devolving decision-making authority to bishops, he opposed the idea of creating “national churches,” but would still like to “give a little more thought” to how such a development would work. It would “have to be in conformity with the universal Church, but give respectful autonomy to the diocesan bishop,” he said.

Overall, he predicted the synod was not going to produce “sharp, clear answers,” but said he has been seeing a “real transformation taking place in the aula. People are listening to each other, coming to a sense in which their own views are changing.”

He said his own views had changed. “I’ve listened to the other side and really taken to heart what has been said by people across the board,” he said, adding that one synod father said he felt like one of the three kings who visited Jesus.

Like them, he said, the synod father remarked he was “going to go back a different way.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

He is the author of The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?

An Investigation Into Alleged Manipulation at the

Extraordinary Synod on the Family” (Ignatius, 2015).