Philadelphia Archdiocese's Morality Pledge Reveals Contrasting Visions of Church

Students file into an archdiocesan high school as classes resume

With just over two weeks until Pope Francis arrives in the U.S., the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced a new Catholic identity pledge that all parents with children in Catholic schools will be required to sign.

Parents will receive the page-long “Memorandum of Understanding” in applications and handbooks, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer, and they will be instructed to sign it. Their signature will mean the following:

“In addition to its pledge of support, the document notes that Catholic schooling is ‘a privilege, not a right,’ and its primary purpose is to strengthen faith. It said schools exist ‘to advance the faith mission’ of the parish, archdiocese, or Catholic religious community; that their ‘priority is fidelity to Catholic teaching and identity’; that schools and administrators have a responsibility to ensure that Catholic teaching and ‘moral integrity permeate every facet of the school’s life and activity’; and that the archbishop determines all matters of teaching, morals, and law.”

Archdiocesan spokesperson Ken Gavin denied that this pledge is either “unprecedented” or a response to the outcry following Waldron Mercy Academy’s firing of lesbian teacher Margie Winters earlier this year. While Gavin continues to affirm the archdiocese was uninvolved, administrators at the Sisters of Mercy school knew about Winters’ same-gender marriage for years. It was only after someone reported her to the archdiocese that punitive action was taken.

Memorandum of Understanding from the Archdiocese

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput is on record saying the discrimination against Winters displayed “character and common sense” and he is grateful for it. This latest decision to require parents to sign the pledge further emphasizes a difference between his vision for the church and that of Pope Francis whose papacy is marked by mercy and inclusion. In an interview with ABC 6, Chaput was asked about the pope’s invitational approach and replied:

“We don’t trick them into the church and then spring the teachings of Jesus on them. . .[Jesus] said ‘if you’re going to follow me, you have to take up your cross and follow me.’ He didn’t say ‘follow me and I’ll talk to you about those difficult things later.’ “

Margie Winters, who taught religious education for eighteen years, has a different vision she is proclaiming, even as the pain of not returning for another school year lingers. Winters told the Inquirer that “the reality is sinking in that I’m not part of the school any more” and she is attempting to find ways of connecting with community members hurt by her firing:

” ‘This is my community, so I feel like I should be there with them through this,’ the way she would’ve been during any other school crisis. . . .’Part of me wants to be in the middle of the conversations they will be having at Waldron.’ “

What would she contribute if she were present at these conversations? A dialogical vision of the church where all voices are welcomed, all perspectives included, and mercy ruling the discourse:

” ‘The question would be, how do we keep mercy at the center of our decisions, policies and approaches to these topics? . . .The world wants to divide us when we disagree. It wants us angry and seething, to walk away. Mercy calls us to come back and to be in conversation with all parties, even those we disagree with, to find mutuality. Dialogue is what our community needs.’ “

Yet, this vision of church is increasingly difficult to sustain for many students and parents in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the costs of this current ideological pledge are unknown. More than a dozen families withdrew from Waldron Mercy Academy after Winters was fired, including Cathy Davis who told the Inquirer she would sign the pledge if it would be applied equally for employees because “the anger can’t be selective on what they are going to accept and not accept.”

The use of a pledge is reminiscent of Pope Pius X’s “Oath Against Modernism” from 1910. All those who ministered for and taught in the church were required to sign this document. Why hasn’t our Church progressed beyond such oaths?

Sadly, Archbishop Chaput and other bishops who have implemented enhanced morality clauses in teaching contracts are taking giant steps backwards towards 1910, rather than stepping forward towards a church that is “home for all” and whose leaders are confident in the People of God, trusting the Holy Spirit. When he comes to Philadelphia, Pope Francis should act against this distrustful trend and defend his inclusive vision of church, which sounds as if it is much closer to Margie Winters’ than Archbishop Chaput’s.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

15 replies
  1. terryweldon
    terryweldon says:

    “the archbishop determines all matters of teaching, morals, and law” – Since when? What about the pope? or Church Councils? or Bishops’ synods? or the sensus fidelii?
    Chaput is proclaiming blatant heresy.

  2. Ryan Sattler
    Ryan Sattler says:

    Great message this morning. I will forward it to my many friends in Pennsylvania. We pray that Pope Francis will seize the moment and inform the Archbishop his vision of Church is too small, too exclusive for the world we live in. As stated, it’s 2015 not 1910.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    But being in a married same sex relationship isn’t a cross, it is a blessing. Christ didn’t say it was a sin. Not being faithful is a sin, but the type of partner isn’t mentioned. To follow Chaput’s logic being part of the Church is now the cross its members are expected to bear. Didn’t Christ invite all to come to Him?

  4. heldentenor43pkmilleralbany
    heldentenor43pkmilleralbany says:

    Philadelphia has always been a bastion of ultraconservative Catholicism. At least, eons ago, Cardinal Kroll did a great deal for the poor & others in need. This “Emptiness” makes Ted Cruz & Kim Davis bastions of liberalism. He’s worse than they or any Republican Presidential candidate.
    It’s no wonder charter schools are thriving. Your children can get a structured education–even uniforms–without worrying about being indoctrinated, teachers terminated because of ideological differences, their sexual orientation or even “cohabitating” sans marriage.
    Perhaps a decade ago we were meeting w/NY State Legislators on hunger issues. One Assemblyman looked at his calendar, rolled his eyes & sighed, “Next week it’s the Catholics again: sexandabortion, sexandabortion, sexandabortion, sexandabortion… Oh-we’re also against the death penalty and for all that nice social justice stuff but… sexandabortion, sexandabortion, oh—did we say, sexandabortion, sexandabortion, sexandabortion, sexandabortion…”
    This goes for the Pope’s well-meaning but still exclusionary policy about annulments. It’s all POWER. You will do as we say BECAUSE WE HAVE THE POWER TO *MAKE* YOU DO AS WE SAY. These MEN all need to reread JESUS.

  5. poolgirl2
    poolgirl2 says:

    Unbelievable persecution of Christians by those who think they are the last word. So many will walk/run away from this narrow-mindedness. It will take a lot of courage to rip that contract to shreds and send it back to the school. They should start a bonfire with them.

  6. Sister Lea
    Sister Lea says:

    The problem here is that the ROMAN Rite of Catholicism CANNOT and WILL NEVER see inclusion as essential to the Gospel. Roman Rite interpretation of Scripture and Tradition are AGAINST Vatican II in every respect that opens the Church to the World. This is why some cardinals and bishops are having such a hard time with Pope Francis.

    Roman Rite theology, liturgy and governance are based in the preservation of the faith as the Councils of Trent and Vatican I proclaimed it. Immutability and permanence are charisms of the Roman Rite. There is no need to fault them for charisms that have carried the faith into the 21st century.

    Yet, a slow growing/now mushrooming polarity has developed between Trent and Vatican II theology, liturgy and governance on both sides of the Catholic Church, progressive and conservative. So far this polarization has only served to drive each side more definitively into its own camp. It has also driven people out of the Catholic Church, a consequence destructive to the Catholic faith at large.

    Yet what if this rising polarization is a gift of the Holy Spirit?

    Could the Holy Spirit be trying to get us to RAISE Vatican II COUNCIL to Vatican II Catholic RITE alongside the Roman Rite? After all, the tradition of a diversity of Catholic Rites within the universal Catholic Church is an ancient one. See This tradition encompasses different interpretations of doctrine/theology and governance/canon law as well as different liturgical practices. (Some would have us believe that “Rite” pertains only to different liturgical expressions, but this is true only in a few instances.)

    It will take work to do this raising of Vatican II Council to the position of a Catholic Rite, and it will not happen without the Holy Spirit’s intervention. Yet this very work could alleviate the destructive wrangling between these two Catholic positions (Trent vs Vatican II) much as the formation of Eastern Catholic Rites freed up each side to see and live the faith differently yet within the same family Catholic.

    If you are interested in this work, leave a message on

    • Don Siegal
      Don Siegal says:

      This is indeed an interesting concept–one that is ancient but actually viable. It also exists as the Anglican Rite. They can keep their Common Book of Prayer liturgy, their married priesthood, and (I’m not sure about their ordination of women). As an ecumenicalist, I see this form of coming together for the great liturgical communions–Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and some day the Orthodox. Ah, but I am a dreamer.

  7. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    Back to the tenets of the Imperial Church! I find outrageous that those who protected pederast priests have the audacity to talk about morality.


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