Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia will head a working group tasked with “furthering the reception and implementation” of Amoris Laetitia in the United States. Given the archbishop and other members’ notable LGBT-negative records, what may be the impact of this working group?
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) president, appointed Chaput to head the working group, according to the National Catholic Reporter. A USCCB statement listed three tasks for the working group: assisting bishops with the positive reception and implementation of it, learn about local initiatives towards this end, and provide a report to the Vatican on these efforts.
Four bishops round out the working group. These are Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York; Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit; and Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis. All but Hebda have records of speaking out strongly and negatively about LGBT issues.
As part of North Carolina’s Catholic Conference, Burbidge initially supported North Carolina’s anti-transgender HB 2 law. The conference said the law “yielded a favorable outcome. Burbidge later distanced himself from the law after it received international criticism. The bishop withdrew his diocese from the North Carolina Council of Churches in 2013 over marriage equality.
Malone, on the USCCB’s behalf, described recent federal directives to protect transgender students as “deeply disturbing,” and he cited Amoris Laetitia in his condemnation. In the same capacity, he also said that President Barack Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors “implements discrimination” against religious organizations. Locally, he forced a Catholic parish to remove a sign about Jesus’ two dads and expressed gratitude that a Catholic high school rejected a lesbian alumna’s wedding announcement.
Archbishop Vigneron has said breaking up same-gender relationships is similar to Moses leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt, that Catholics supporting marriage equality should not receive Communion (though he eventually softened this stance slightly), and banned a Fortunate Families parents’ group from a local parish because it was hosting a speaker from New Ways Ministry.
As for Chaput himself, the record is longer. The National Catholic Reporter noted that Chaput responded to Amoris Laetitia by claiming the pope had clearly rejected “gender ideology and the sexual identity confusion it promotes” and wrote further:
“It would be a mistake to misread the compassionate spirit of Amoris Laetitia as a license to ignore Christian truth on matters of substance.”
Chaput said the 2014 synod confused the faithful. At the 2015 synod, the archbishop was among those participants who opposed to Pope Francis’ work who were vocally fearful of change. Beforehand during the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, Chaput ejected LGBT organizations from hosting programs at a Catholic parish and warned LGBT Catholics against protesting. Locally, he has implemented a morality pledge for parents of Catholic schoolchildren that includes non-support of LGBT equality, dismissed the concerns of a Catholic mother with gay sons, and said he was “very grateful” lesbian educator Margie Winters had been fired by the Sisters of Mercy. This list of problematic statements and actions against LGBT people goes on. Perhaps more troubling is Chaput’s rising status as incoming chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Family Life, in addition to this new working group, and his election to the Synod of Bishops’ 12-member permanent council.
Taken together, the Amoris Laetitia working group for the United States does not leave much hope that a document which already disappointed LGBT people and allies will produce a wider institutional welcome or effect new pastoral outreach. Indeed, the working group’s efforts may further dull any positive impact the exhortation can have. We need to remember that in the church change rises from the bottom, so the hard work of implementing any of Amoris Laetitia’s more positive aspects remains in the faithful’s hands.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry