Catholic School Matters

October 7, 2018

Truth, Mercy, and the Synod

This week, I am highlighting the Synod of Bishops which is taking place right now in Rome. Perhaps because the topic is not ostensibly about Catholic education or because Catholics are tired of hearing about bishops or controversies, the Synod seems to be flying under the radar. In my mind, the disagreements which have emerged surrounding the Instrumentum Laboris entitled “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” and the pre-Synodal document underscore important distinctions in the Catholic Church which we need to reconcile.

To that end, I’m speaking with three theologians this week on the Catholic School Matters podcast to gather their perspective on the Synod. Here is the link to the “Final Document from the Pre-Synodal Meeting.” The meeting took place in March and represents the thinking of the laity and clergy present at that meeting. The document as well as the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) has provided quite a bit of controversy. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia published a criticism of the IL in First Things, and then Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago responded. You can find another critical piece from the Cardinal Newman Society.

In the intervening months, there were calls for the synod to be called off or changed. Katie Prejean McGrady argued that we still need a synod for youth, and Bishop Caggiano (who is participating) argued that the abuse crisis should be addressed. Here is a great article summarizing the synod. NCR has offered a number of articles on the synod and this page provides a plethora of links. If you’re wondering about the problem the Synod is trying to solve, the Boston Globe ran a great story on how younger Catholics are moving away from the Church.

So what are the important distinctions? The documents calls for accompaniment, dialogue, discernment, mercy, and vocation for all. Objections to the document include the lack of objective truth, a focus on uncertainty, and dilution of Church teaching. I harken back to the distinction drawn by Dr. Julie Hanlon Rubio (theologian from Santa Clara) who contributed an essay in Amoris Laetitia: A New Momentum for Moral Formation and Pastoral Practice (2018). She describes that many Catholics diverge on the central question of what is most important—truth or mercy. The same is true here. If it’s most important to be correct, you will object to the parts of the pre-synodal documents which seem to question Church teachings. But if mercy is what you desire, then the words of accompaniment and dialogue soar.

Perhaps the best scenario is what to do about co-habiting couples. If you want to invite them in and accompany them a la Pope Francis in order to introduce the value of marriage, you are in the mercy camp. But if you believe that cohabitation is wrong and should be called such, you are in the truth camp. Ultimately, the question becomes, “how do we evangelize…by telling them the truth or showing mercy?” My guess is that how you answer that question speaks to how you view this synod as well as Pope Francis’s focus.

If we understand the conflict of the Synod in terms of truth vs. mercy, then we can understand the rhetoric and draw the lessons we need from the experience. And it should also help us relate to our fellow Catholics, allowing us to build bridges.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Community Engagement

  1. Dr. Anders Ericsson, the co-author of Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise (2016) has agreed to come on the podcast in October to discuss his book. The book outlines "deliberate practice" and we'll explore its application to Catholic schools. If you'd like to participate, pick up the book, read it, and then submit questions for Dr. Ericsoon to
  2. I'm putting together a collection of scenarios of Catholic leadership as a means to teach Catholic leaders how to develop their own moral leadership compass. I'll preview a scenario each month and ask you to submit any ideas of Catholic school leadership moral dilemmas to This month's example:

You wake up to the news that a former trainer at the local public high school has admitted to abusing boys and is being charged with systematic abuse spanning many years. When you get to school, you find that he began his career at your school.

  • Step 1: How do you proceed? Who do you notify? How do you respond to inquiries? What information do you gather? How much of a priority is it?
  • Step 2: When contacted by police and attorneys, how do you respond? What do you communicate to your parents and staff? What if you suspect that he abused students at your school?

American Catholic News

44 Catholic schools were announced as Blue Ribbon winners last week. Here is the list of all private schools.
In the spirit of transparency and learning from the controversies of fellow schools, here's a look at the controversies which engulfed Camden Catholic HS, assistant superintendent of the Archdiocese of Washington accused of fraud, the Diocese of Cleveland fired a campus minister for liking posts about gay marriage, and Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau superintendent resigns over allegation.

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

This week, I'm going to be travelling Mon-Wed, visiting St. Paul's Mission Grade School in Hays (the first mission in Montana founded by Pierre deSmet), St. Jude's in Havre, and the Billings Catholic Schools. This week's podcast will feature an in-depth look at the Bishop's Synod on Young People featuring three theologians: Dr. Ann Garrido of Aquinas Institute, Dr. Carmen Nanko-Fernandez of CTU and Dr. James Keenan, SJ, of Boston College. Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

  • Monday: Visit St. Paul's Mission Grade School
  • Tuesday: Visit St. Jude Thaddeus School (Havre)
  • Wednesday: Catholic School Matters Radio Hour; Visit Billings Catholic Schools; Billings Catholic School Board
  • Thursday: Office (Helena) & Great Falls meetings
  • Friday: Office (Helena)

Miles this week: 1,103 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 14,182 road miles; 17,059 air miles


  1. Catholic Leadership Summit & New Leaders Academy Oct 20-24 , Jacksonville
  2. NCEA Conference & Expo April 23-25, Chicago
  3. Links to upcoming NCEA webinars

Last 5 Books

  1. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 (2014) by Eric Foner.
  2. Teaching and the Case Study Method (1994) by Louis B. Barnes & C. Roland Christensen
  3. The Art of Theological Reflection (1994) by Patricia O'Connell Killen & John De Beer.
  4. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016) by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool.
  5. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015) by Peter Frankopan

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading along with links to Wed Book Blogs

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

September 23, 2018 "Native American Experience"

September 16, 2018 "How Are We Forming our Leaders?"

September 9, 2018 "Where is Your Attention?"