In new guidelines, Philadelphia’s archbishop has banned people in same-gender relationships from pastoral or liturgical roles.
Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines are a response to Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family, and the synodal process preceding the exhortation’s April publication. The guidelines, which became effective July 1, instruct church ministers involved with marriage and family life, or the church’s sacramental life on handling Catholics in diverse family arrangements. In addition to restrictions on same-gender couples, the guidelines also tell pastors not to distribute communion to couples who are divorced and civilly remarried, as well as couples who are cohabitating.
(For New Ways Ministry’s response to the guidelines, click here.)
Addressing the pastoral care of people in same-gender relationships, Chaput wrote that pastors must prudentially judge an appropriate response to couples who “present themselves openly in a parish.” He continued:
“But 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. Such a relationship cannot be accepted into the life of the parish without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.
“Finally, those living openly same-sex lifestyles should not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.”
Under a section titled “For persons who experience same-sex attraction,” Chaput said lesbian, bisexual, and gay Catholics should “struggle to live chastely” and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently.
Michael Rocks, president of Dignity/Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was “not surprised” by Chaput issuing such harsh guidelines, but questioned them nonetheless:
” ‘But I wonder how they tell if straight people are following the sexual rules of the church. . .How do they tell if the president of the parish council isn’t into child pornography or having a sexual relationship?’ “
Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, said that instead of acknowledging the fullness of marriage and family, “in Philadelphia, it is all about the genitalia.” He continued:
“So intent are prelates like Archbishop Chaput in refusing to think there is anything really worth discussing here, they wish to shut down and foreclose the pope’s obvious invitation to discussion and adult decision making. . .
“When Archbishop Chaput gets to the situation of gay and lesbian Catholics, he declines to even show the simple respect of referring to gays and lesbians as they refer to themselves, adopting the awkward, and rude, circumlocution “those who experience same sex attraction. . .When such respect is seen to coincide with even the tiniest possibility that an opportunity to denounce homosexual relations as sinful will be missed, too many prelates follow Archbishop Chaput and decline the respect and seize the opportunity.”
Archbishop Chaput acknowledged part of the guidelines as a “hard teaching,” but insisted on these guidelines in the archdiocese. His record on LGBT issues had been already quite troubling before these guidelines were announced. He previously ejected LGBT organizations from hosting programs at a Catholic parish, and he warned LGBT Catholics against protesting ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Locally, he 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.
Even with this record, banning Catholics in loving, fruitful same-gender relationships from all parish and liturgical ministries is notable. This exclusionary stance not only harms LGBT people and their families, but hinders the church’s mission too by depriving it of the many gifts and talents that faithful LGBT people offer the People of God.
Unfortunately, the archbishop’s merciless stance may not be limited to Philadelphia. Chaput, who participated in the 2015 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was appointed by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to head a working group tasked with “furthering the reception and implementation of” Amoris Laetitia. He chairs, too, the Conference’s Committee on Family Life, and was elected to the Synod of Bishops’ 12-member permanent council.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry