Archbishop Chaput’s Pastoral Restrictions Are a Losing Strategy

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on July 6, 2016, in response to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s new pastoral directives.

In a move which seems diametrically opposite to Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput has instructed pastoral ministers in his archdiocese not to distribute communion to divorced/remarried and cohabitating couples, and not to allow individuals involved in same-sex relationships to occupy leadership or ministerial roles in parish life.  Chaput’s instruction came in a six-page document which he called “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia,” the apostolic exhortation that Pope Francis released in April. (For more information about the document, click here.)

Sacramental denials and restricting parish involvement are not effective pastoral strategies for the Church to be following.  Pope Francis’ emphasis has been to move away from such measures, and instead, offer an open and welcoming hand to all–even, and perhaps especially, to those whose lives do not always conform to all of the church’s official teachings.  Denials and restrictions will only cause more people to leave the Church, thus contributing to its demise, rather than towards building it up.  Chaput has offered a losing pastoral strategy.

Though this instruction will anger and frustrate many Catholics, whose hearts are much wider in accepting people regardless of their state in life, it is not a strategy that will pass the test of time.  It is just one more attempt to hold on to a model of church which has long been rendered obsolete.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Chaput’s directives are distinctly at odds with the tone and recommendations of Amoris Laetitia which stressed church leaders should provide pastoral accompaniment and encounter, as well as encouragement, instead of discipline.  In many places, Chaput’s instruction reads schizophrenically, by emphasizing the need for such accompaniment, but then each time concluding with a recommendation that is a harsh restriction.

Chaput’s instructions should be, and most likely will be, ignored by pastoral ministers in his archdiocese.  They will most likely use their own pastoral judgement about administering sacraments and appointing people to ministerial and leadership roles.   Such is what happened last year when Newark’s Archbishop John Myers sent out similar instructions to pastoral staff in his archdiocese.  On the whole, the directives were ignored.

This issue becomes worrisome, though, because it is also very possible that self-appointed conservative “watchdogs” will take it upon themselves to report violations to the archdiocese.  Should this be what happens, then Chaput would have opened a Pandora’s box or problems for himself and the church of Philadelphia when dismissals and communion rejections become public, along with the guaranteed protests by Catholics who support those dismissed and rejected.

Because of these possibilities, in one sense Chaput’s instructions may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  With such an outpouring of protest, his leadership, already widely ignored, will become more irrelevant, paving the way for new leadership and directions for this archdiocese which has already had more than its share of tragedies caused by rigidly conservative leaders.

Also troubling is the fact that Chaput was recently named chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee to implement Amoris Laetitia nationally.  This archdiocesan document does not bode well for the direction this committee may take.  Since Chaput represents the most conservative wing of the U.S. church, it is unlikely that any recommendations which emerge will be useful to most bishops, who will likely take a more compassionate approach to implementing the apostolic exhortation than the narrow one that Chaput has offered.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry






21 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    The Archbishop attacks cohabiting, divorced and remarried and same-sex couples in the Church who are still attending and professing their faith. This group that he has selected out for regular humiliation and overt public shaming is by its very nature one of evident strong faith and determination to remain part of the Catholic church. These are people who despite already being under such clouds of doctrinal disapproval still answer the Roman Catholic call in their hearts. Surely this brave band has people who have especially strong gifts to offer to parish life? Indeed many who might qualify for this ‘group’ will have walked away from the Church some time ago.

    I agree with your observations, Francis, that many will simply ignore this. But if no formal response comes from higher up then there is tacit approval. And as you point out, Chaput actually has the most senior role in the US as responder to Amoris Laetitia. This will do damage. How long before the awful Bill Donohue is on CNN extolling his virtues and weaponising these comments in his attacks on gay people?

    Chaput’s whole response makes for unpleasant reading – one moment dripping with condescending calls for patronising ‘sensitivity’ and the next moment sticking the knife in. For example: “two persons in an active, public same-sex relationship, no matter how sincere, offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community.”

    • poolgirl2
      poolgirl2 says:

      It would seem that Pope Francis condones and implicitly supports this man. Archbishop Chaput seems to have no guidance to change his language or his hateful stances from the Pope. Surely the Pope is contact with such a “high official”of the Church. Chaput is not some rogue priest deemed to be ignored, but rather an “official” wielding a lot of negative power.

  2. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I am numb to statements from the hierarchy. To broaden Sr. Jeannine’s statement to interact with the official Church is to participate in our oppression. Where is the Joy of Love in Chaput’s statement? Given his position his is not a wild hair, but a sign of the rotten core of those who have taken the Church from its members. I suggest all Catholics who believe in Christ’s love withhold any contributions to the church and give them to organization that truly reflect His mission.

  3. Maryann Vitelli
    Maryann Vitelli says:

    So a gay person living a lie by not being true to himself/herself is accepted by the Church; but a gay person who is true to who God made him/her to be, is not. Why would any openly gay person or his/her family want to be part of a Church that clearly rejects him/her?

  4. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    The Pope takes a step forward and the Cardinals take two steps back. Will we ever be welcomed? This is not at all encouraging. If the Church continues to limit its congregation to only those whose sexuality is in line with their imaginations , they will be preaching to empty pews.

  5. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    I am stunned. God bless and protect all our children who are ALWAYS OUR CHILDREN and HIS creation as well. Shunning and refusing are not reflections of the examples Jesus gave to us.

  6. Kevin Coyle
    Kevin Coyle says:

    I live in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland. It’s leader is Archbishop William Lori. I have never heard Archbishop Lori say anything supportive or critical of gay and lesbian people. Does New Ways Ministries know how this church leader thinks about this issue?

  7. Friends
    Friends says:

    Chaput is clearly a genetic clone of Cardinal “Capa Magna Studded-Gloves” Burke — whom Pope Francis busted out of his pretensions, and then consigned him to a sinecure caretaker position with the Knights of Malta. What has happened to our much-admired Pope Francis? He promised great progressive changes in our Church — and we rallied joyfully behind his initiatives. But now he allows Chaput to get away with Burke-esque anti-pastoral dictates like this? Something has gone badly awry within the governance of the Church.

  8. Bob Burns
    Bob Burns says:

    Even Jesus makes mistakes, look at Chaput , it has to be a mistake. How can the Catholic’s of Philadelphia be so unlucky to wind up with so many conservative bishops. So far he is the one bishop that is so far in left filed. Pope Francis has to clean the house in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. How much longer can the members of the Philadelphia Archdiocese continue to keep their faith?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Decree is not entirely novel. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput sought last summer to bar LGBT people from both Communion and liturgical ministries in his restrictive pastoral guidelines. Elsewhere, […]

  2. […] 20 was not first my first encounter with the episcopal directive. I’d read about it in the news some months before. Of course it made me angry: it’s very offensive. Chaput asserts that same-sex couples […]

  3. […] far more by this pope. And because Chaput has so narrowly interpreted Amoris Laetitia, he has essentially rejected the document which is the pope’s apostolic exhortation on family life that emerged from the […]

  4. […] the document wholeheartedly. Others, like the critics mentioned above or Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, will be obstructionist. For the rest of the faithful, this renewed dialogue and debate in the […]

  5. […] You can read more about the pastoral guidelines by clicking here. You can access New Ways Ministry’s statement in response by clicking here. […]

  6. […] Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here. […]

  7. […] (For New Ways Ministry’s response to the guidelines, click here.) […]

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