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chaput20151007cnsbr0844 800Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput concelebrates Mass with Pope Francis during the closing of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – When a big group of people gathers to discuss something important, people start lobbying, even if that group is the world Synod of Bishops, said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis told participants Oct. 6 "we should avoid thinking of each other as conspiring against one another, but to work for unity among the bishops," Archbishop Chaput told reporters at a synod press briefing at the Vatican Oct. 7.

"I have never been at a church meeting where there aren't groups that get together and lobby for a particular direction and that's going on, I assure you," the archbishop said. "That's what happens when human beings get together. We shouldn't be surprised or scandalized by that as long as it's done up front and honestly and not in a way that tries to win rather than to arrive at the truth."

French Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille told reporters he heard Pope Francis' admonition as an encouragement "to safeguard serenity in our discussions."

"And the pope told us last year, didn't he, that we should speak with all freedom and listen to each other with all humility," added Peruvian Archbishop Salvador Pineiro Garcia-Calderon of Ayacucho.

A journalist asked the bishops about the possibility that national or regional bishops' conferences would be given more responsibility for some matters, including pastoral approaches to marriage, given the diversity issues impacting families around the world.

The reporter cited Pope Francis' exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel," which said: "A juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the church's life and her missionary outreach."

Archbishop Chaput responded, "The Catholic Church is described as 'catholic' if it reaches everywhere and reaches out to everyone in welcome, but also it believes the same thing everywhere about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Some of that can be handled better universally and some of that can be handled better locally."

"At the same time, diversity is always in the service of unity in the Catholic Church," so "I don't think we would say it is appropriate for bishops' conferences to decide matters of doctrine and things like that."

Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp had told the synod Oct. 6, "In their local churches bishops encounter a great variety of questions and needs to which they must provide a pastoral answer today."

Responses to the questionnaire set out by the Vatican before the synod and the consultations bishops carried out in preparation for the synod showed that many of the most important questions raised "clearly differ between countries and continents," Bishop Bonny said.

"There is, however, a common theme in those questions, namely the desire that the church will stand in 'the great river of mercy.' It is important that the synod give space and responsibility to the local bishops to formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God which is entrusted to their pastoral care. The individual bishops' conferences have a special role in this.

"The synod not only deals with 'the family as church,' but also with 'the church as family,'" he said. "Every family knows what it means to work on unity in diversity, with patience and creativity."

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.