Pastoral guidelines excluding LGBT people from church ministries and encouraging same-gender couples and others to refrain from Communion have provoked strong responses in the Philadelphia area.
Archbishop Charles Chaput released the guidelines as his response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, though they many have found them contradictory to the the document.
The guidelines instruct church ministers to restrict LGBT people from parish ministries, and to deny Communion to many others. Chaput said that same-gender couples offer a “serious counter-witness to Catholic belief” and “undermine the faith of the community.”
Responses to these restrictive guidelines have been swift and strong. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Catholic, tweeted that Jesus gave Communion out of love and to all people, and therefore “Chaput’s actions are not Christian.”
Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics, an online advocacy organization, criticized the archbishop in The Huffington Post, highlighting a challenging illustration to the ban on LGBT people in ministry:
“I hate to break it to Archbishop Chaput, but there are likely thousands of sexually active LGBT Catholics serving in ministry positions across the world. They’re consoling families, teaching children, healing the sick, feeding the poor, and are administering sacraments like the Eucharist. The Church would most certainly be poorer spiritually if all LGBT Catholics were removed from leadership positions.”
Seufert questioned the impact Archbishop Chaput’s lengthy LGBT-negative record has caused, and the further implications it may have. Citing the Jesuit truism about finding God in all things, Seufert concluded:
“If Archbishop Chaput can’t find any semblance of God in civilly married same-sex couples and their families, he’s not spending enough time with LGBT people and their families. . .
“He may not realizes this, but the more Archbishop Chaput resists civil liberties for non-traditional families, the more likely Catholics will push for internal change within the Church on marriage and the family. This internal change will occur with or without people like Archbishop Chaput because an ever increasing number of straight Catholics like me are taking the time to learn about, live with, and unconditionally love their LGBT brothers and sisters.”
It is an established reality that U.S. Catholics are, as Seufert noted, overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights. This dissonance between how Catholics are practicing their faith and what the archbishop seeks to impose could be problematic.
Kevin Hughes, a theology professor at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, told the Delco Times the ambiguities in Amoris Laetitia mean implementation could either expand pastoral care or it could lead to restrictions. If it is the latter, as with Chaput’s guidelines, Hughes said:
“I think there are parish communities in which divorced and civilly remarried people and/or gay couples are active participants in the life of a parish. The guidelines will ask for some very serious soul-searching among pastors and parishioners alike, and it will be very painful for some communities to sort out the questions of leadership and liturgical roles.”
Not all priests in the Archdiocese are following Chaput’s path. Fr. Joseph Corley of Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Darby, will host a discussion of the exhortation and the guidelines at his suburban Philadelphia parish, but with the aim of “helping people to develop an informed conscience.”
Letters to the editor published by The Inquirer in Philadelphia reveal members of the Catholic faithful deeply critical of the archbishop. Laura Szatny wrote that the “sheer arrogance and un-Christian attitude of Chaput continue to stun.” Kate Fleming questioned his priorities, noting the archbishop’s opposition to state legislation expanding the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse:
“Archbishop Charles Chaput should focus on policing his priests, who take a vow of celibacy, instead of his flock. Protecting innocent victims of sexual abuse by his employees seems to be a much more important problem than the sex lives of lay Catholics.”
Writing in Philly Mag, columnist Liz Spikol also noted the abuse scandals currently exploding in the Pennsylvania church and the harm the church has caused to people. She queried:
“Obviously, Chaput had no personal involvement in the tragic case of Brian Gergely [an clergy abuse survivor who committed suicide the same week the guidelines were released]. But Gergely’s fellow survivors know the kind of Church Chaput represents all too well — the kind where higher-ups are exalted regardless of their lack of humanity, where preventing scandal is more important that preventing harm. . .
“In his Pastoral Guidelines, Chaput refused to use common terms for members of the LGBT community. . .It is utterly dehumanizing. When will Chaput and those in his circle understand that his hardline approach, which has already caused so much damage, only does the Church harm? I look forward to the day when the Philadelphia Archdiocese — as well as those in other parts of Pennsylvania — serve as a model for Francis’s supremely humane teachings.”
Catholics all over Philadelphia have criticized the archbishop adequately. I would add only one more point to their observations. In Amoris Laetitia, one of the most striking lines from Pope Francis is when he addresses church ministers with these words, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” There is much more in the 256-page document that contradicts Chaput’s guidelines, but these words about conscience seem paramount. The archbishop continues to replace Catholics’ consciences with his own judgements. Thankfully, Philadelphia Catholics are still listening to the that voice of God echoing in the depths of their being, and living the Gospel as they know best.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry