In an interview with America following the end of the synod on young adults, Cardinal Blase Cupich spoke about the synod’s method of “synodality,” the sexual and other forms of abuse of minors, the role of women in the church and migration. He also spoke about the rise of xenophobia, the demonization of people by political leaders across the world that can lead to violence and how the church should respond to these developments in a prophetic way.
Speaking on Oct. 28, after the synod ended and following the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, the cardinal recalled that “migration” was one of the synod’s biggest issues.
"In the United States and around the world there is a growing xenophobia, and young people are repulsed by the efforts to demonize people.”
The synod’s final document declared that in regards to the issue of migration, “the church must be prophetic.” Commenting on this, Cardinal Cupich said, “we heard this from a lot of young people who know their peers who are migrating because of war and poverty, but also now because of the environment and climate change. People are going to have to leave their homes because they can no longer live there. So they want the church to take a leadership role and be the voice for the voiceless.”
He noted that “in the United States and around the world there is a growing xenophobia, and young people are repulsed by the efforts to demonize people, which only diminishes the human dignity of these people who are just trying to better their life.”
Referring to the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, the cardinal said that while the tragedy was anti-Semitic, it “was also anti-immigrant” because “he went after them also because of the immigration work they were doing.”
The cardinal said, “this very corrosive rhetoric against people who are different because of the way they worship, where they come from, or their race, is both unhealthy and unjust, and it eventually bubbles up into actual acts of violence—as we see in this case where a man felt justified to go in and kill 11 people in a synagogue.”
Earlier in the day, at the Angelus, Pope Francis had denounced the “inhuman violence” in Pittsburgh and said, “we must quench those hotbeds of hate.” Cardinal Cupich agreed. But he also said that more needs to be done: “Yes, we need to quench them, but we must also forcefully speak to elected officials that they should not, in any way, give a signal that justifies that kind of language or action. This is the problem we are facing.”
Cardinal Cupich noted that as a church, we must call out the xenophobic rhetoric of political leaders.
He noted that as a church, we must call out the xenophobic rhetoric of political leaders. He said, “It is not just quenching this anger that is there. The church actually has the responsibility to name bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism and call out those who are elected officials when they attempt to exploit the fears of people that eventually erupt into outbursts of violence.”
The Chicago cardinal recalled that the synod also discussed the abuse of minors by clergy and said, “I come from a country where the abuse issue is very much alive, and for good reasons. We have to make sure that we are creating a safe environment for young people and reaching out to young people who have been hurt, but also trying to rebuild trust by being transparent and holding people accountable. We have to do all of those things.”
Young people at the synod gave voice to other issues too, he said, including “how the adult world is making decisions that put their future at risk, decisions regarding immigration, the exploitation of their natural resources in a corrupt way, joblessness, the turning to war and military intervention to solve conflicts that end up leaving generations afterward paying the price of that war, and the great poverty around the world.” At the synod, he heard from young people “who live in island communities. They realize that in 10 or 20 years some of the islands are going to be gone because of the climate change and the continuing rise of the sea levels.” He said, “The young people asked the bishops to speak to those issues, to lend our voice so that their concerns can be heard.”
Cardinal Cupich recalled that the issue of the role of women in the church “came up quite a lot” and “was raised not just by women, but also by the young men in the synod.” He rejoiced that the final document “talked about women being involved in decision-making in the life of the church.” He considered this “a big step forward” but recognized that “more needs to be done.” He recalled that during his 20 years as a bishop in three dioceses, “I’ve always had women in my administrations, and I can tell you that they have saved me from making some dumb and boneheaded decisions; they kind of pulled me back from the precipice and gave me a different insight. They look at life differently, they have a different way of approaching things, and I think the church needs to benefit from that.”
He said opening roles in decision-making to women in the church “is not just a matter of tolerating women. That should never be the approach. It should be a matter of seeing that women look at life in a way that’s a gift.” Pope Francis has already placed some women in such roles in the Roman Curia, he added, but “more needs to be done.”
Asked what he has done in Chicago on this front, the cardinal said he has placed women “in important positions. A woman runs the Archdiocese of Chicago on a day-to-day basis, she’s the chief operations officer,” which means that “on a daily basis, when it comes to any institutional decision about the Archdiocese of Chicago, she’s the one who controls it. She works with me, she keeps me informed, but she’s also one that takes the initiative to bring about the organization that’s needed in the archdiocese, from finance to personnel to legal issues, communications. She does a terrific job.”
"The church actually has the responsibility to name bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism and call out those who are elected officials when they attempt to exploit the fears of people."
He pointed out, too, that “many bishops have women in their dioceses in key decision-making roles and in most parishes in the United States” and noted that “the majority of the people involved in parish life are women.” He recalled that the synod’s final document says “we need to put women in positions, not merely in positions where they’re doing work but where they have an input in decision-making. That’s what’s new about this document.”
As he prepared to return to Chicago, he told America, “I go away from the synod with a great deal of hope because the young people had a chance to see firsthand how the church can be church for them going forward into the future. They were given a vision of what church life could be through the lens of synodality.” Many young people told him “that they never thought of the church in these terms” and that “it excites them about how they can continue to develop church life through their participation, by their interaction with each other, by attending to the Spirit that is working in their midst.”
He said many young people told him they were moved at seeing that Pope Francis “has this very creative, imaginative understanding of the church, that they had never thought of before.” Pope Francis said “the first fruit” of the synod is not the final document; rather it is the model, the method of listening, discerning and reaching conclusions for pastoral ministry. Asked if the synod method is a model that can be transferred to the U.S. church, the cardinal said, “I see this as possible in my own diocese of Chicago. Right now we are in the middle of a process called ‘Renew My Church,’ in which we begin first of all by listening to people, having them involved.” He believes “the approach that we have had at the synod is particularly relevant to what we’re doing in the Archdiocese of Chicago. It enriches what we are already doing.” He said, “Pope Francis has given us a far deeper understanding of why this is so important, of why this is the way of the Spirit that we probably didn’t appreciate as fully in the past.”
Cardinal Cupich attended the 2015 synod on the family but found “this was altogether different,” and “the difference was made by the young people participating.” Throughout the synod, he said, “they engaged us in the coffee breaks, they made interventions, they listened to the interventions of the bishops, they clapped, applauded, they were present for the voting.” He added, “Throughout the synod a dialogue was happening with young people in all of these different ways, so that the bishops were not just making decisions on their own, living in their own bubble, but they were being engaged and engaging these young people in a way that brought a freshness to our deliberations that we have never seen in a synod before.”
Reflecting on this synod and previous ones, the Chicago archbishop remarked, “the international quality of the synod is something that we have really not unpacked.” He explained, “there are great strengths in that [international quality] because we hear from other people, but it also shows that there’s a potential for different views that, if we do not negotiate them correctly, could divide us.” So, at the synod, “we always have to keep in tension the fact that people do have different experiences of life and church that are valid, and yet at the same time we have to look for a way that we remain together.”
For this reason, he said, “the principle of the papacy is so very important in the life of the church because we have one who allows us, gives us the freedom to have those differences expressed, but also doing so in such a way that it keeps us together.” He recalled that Pope Francis “constantly insisted that we approach our interaction with open minds and open hearts,” but then the synod fathers have to learn “how do we deal with the diversity and the tensions and yet at the same time realize that even more important than the differences is the unity that we share?” At this point he noted that “the first mark of the church, which we express in the creed, is that we are ‘one’,” and he emphasized that “it is the pope who guarantees that unity.”
Reflecting back on this synod, he commented, “It seems to me that we are going to have differences because we come from different places, but I would say that everyone in that room had a commitment to unity; nobody wanted to break that unity even if they didn’t get their way, or the vote didn’t go the way they voted.” He considered this fundamentally important.
Some synod fathers, like Cardinal Oswald Gracias, told America that, because of its “universal nature,” they view the final document as “a draft text” that has to be adapted at national and local church levels. Cardinal Cupich agrees. “It is not a conclusion, it is a springboard by which we can go forward from here,” he said, adding that it must be “taken into consideration with the working document [instrumentum laboris] because they are complementary to each other.”
He said the bishops take home not just the document but the process, the method that produced it so that it can be replicated and have an impact in their home dioceses.