Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has published a wide-ranging criticism of the Instrumentum Laboris (a kind of introduction or preamble) for the upcoming Synod on the Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.

In an introductory paragraph, Chaput explains that the analysis was “received from a respected North American theologian”. The article, which appears in First Things, warns that the Instrumentum veers dangerously close to heresy – specifically the heresies of naturalism, Lutheranism, and relativism.

It begins by criticizing its “naturalist” understanding of modern sexual dysfunction: widespread promiscuity, online pornography, and the like. “The document laments only its ‘disfiguring the beauty and depth of affective and sex life’,” he writes. “No mention is made about the disfigurement of the soul, its consequent spiritual blindness, and impact on the reception of the Gospel by one so wounded.”

He also claims the document exhibits an “inadequate grasp of the Church’s spiritual authority”, denying her role as a teaching authority. According to the Instrumentum: “The Church will opt for dialogue as her style and method… No vocation, especially within the Church, can be placed outside this ongoing dynamism of dialogue.” According to the theologian, this amounts to saying: “The Church does not possess the truth but must take its place alongside other voices”.

Were the Church to abandon her ministry of preaching, that is, were the roles of the teaching Church and the listening Church to be inverted, the hierarchy itself would be inverted, and the ministerial priesthood would collapse into the baptismal priesthood. In short, we would become Lutherans,” he continues.

Finally, he accuses the Instrumentum of taking a “relativistic conception of vocation”. He quotes the document’s references to “personal holiness” and one’s “own truth”, adding bluntly: “This is relativism”. Moreover, he warns against the “false humility” of prioritizing “accompaniment” over that of preaching. This, he says, “gives the impression that absolute truth is not found in God.”

Back in August, Chaput asked Pope Francis to postpone the Synod itself. Right now, the bishops would have absolutely no credibility in addressing this topic,” the archbishop said at an August 30 conference at Philadelphia’s St Charles Borromeo Seminary, according to a report published on the archdiocese website. In its place, Archbishop Chaput suggested that the Pope “begin making plans for a synod on the life of bishops”.