We are part of a church that binds and loosens, not one that solely binds

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

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Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is confused about the recently completed family synod in Rome. He notes that "confusion is of the devil."

Chaput wants to clearly restate church teaching on homosexuals and marriage. I wonder how many times we need to restate the obvious. Is that our only function? Is it simply to keep repeating the same words over and over that everybody already knows and has heard many times?

One advantage of being Catholic is that we believe in tradition, and we believe in a church with the authority to interpret Scripture and tradition. The power to bind and loose is part of that tradition. Yet we are missing half of it if we are only going to bind. If we are just going to stand at the front door and guard it, we have forgotten an important part of our mission. The apostles started adapting Jesus' message even in New Testament times. We must remain faithful to church teaching and Scripture, but we also need to listen and learn about the world and how we can best bring the Christian message into the culture in which we live.

Pope Francis recently said that the theory of evolution, even the Big Bang theory, does not conflict with our faith. We can reach such a conclusion because we are not bound to a literal or fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture. Within the church, we are free to use the tools of historical criticism, science and rational inquiry.

If one pursues the thinking of Chaput, one concludes that we live in a hostile world with which we must always be in conflict. Chaput says conflict purifies the church and lets us know who our enemies are that hate us. He specifies that gay rights activists are among these enemies. He further determines that traditional Catholics are living in exile, like the ancient Israelites in Babylon. He seems to relish going into battle.

It is pretty easy to see that Pope Francis has a very different view of the world and our role within it. It is a little difficult to understand how one versed in the Jesus of the Gospels and the message of love and compassion that Pope Francis has been spreading can see the world in such a negative light.

The proposal Chaput has come up with is for the church to refuse to certify any civil marriages. In a somewhat snide comment, he says, "In the spirit of candor encouraged by Pope Francis," we should discuss this issue. He sees it as a matter of principled resistance.

Chaput questions how a priest can sign a certificate between Spouse A and Spouse B. Of course, no priest will actually be doing that because they will not be officiating at same-sex marriages. The church will perform only those marriages that they deem appropriate within the church. If the state chooses to recognize same-sex relationships within their umbrella of civil marriage, it does not impact the church or what it does.

An important year of debate lies ahead. If traditionalists want to dig in their heels and refuse to acknowledge the possibility of any change, it will be a long year. Chaput and others need to take another look at what they believe and discern the difference between what is truly essential and what is not. I believe their focus is wrong. I would encourage them to focus not so much on maintaining some ethereal purity in the church, but rather in figuring out how to help the Christian people who need the church to be a loving and caring parent.

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