Arch. Charles J. Chaput: Making the Wrong Kind of Mess

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By Charles J. Chaput, First Things, 5 . 20 . 21

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia and the author, most recently, of Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living.


Starting in 2013 and variously thereafter, Pope Francis has called upon Catholics, especially young Catholics, to “make a mess.” In a way, this makes admirable sense. Reform and renewal always involve a kind of creative destruction. Disrupting old patterns of sin and purifying the spirit can be turbulent work. There’s a reason James Joyce described the Catholic faith as “here comes everybody.” The Church is a very big family packed with sinners and eccentric personalities from top to bottom, all in need of conversion.

The key word in that sentence, of course, is “conversion.” Conversion involves separating our appetites, thoughts, and actions from conformity to the world and cleaving instead to the gospel. It’s a word more easily said than done. And the evidence is its utter absence from the current turmoil in the German Church over sex, marriage, and intercommunion—a perverse but logical distortion of synodality, the kind of mess-making that Francis clearly did not intend and did not foresee. …