VATICAN CITY—In yet another example showing just how out of touch celibate prelates can be when it comes to the realities of modern sexuality, a conservative Catholic bishop in the United States has come up with what amounts to a handbook about how not to have sex.
New guidelines (PDF) issued by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia lay out the don'ts and don’ts, as it were, when it comes to the implementation of Pope Francis’s landmark Amoris Laetitia apostolic exhortation on love … at least as this conservative bishop sees it.
His guidelines are aimed at divorced and remarried Catholics and people in same-sex relationships who wish to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist or holy communion. Essentially, confessing to having forbidden sex, which is any sex outside of the original singular heterosexual Catholic marriage, isn’t enough. Instead, they must give up sex altogether.
“With divorced and civilly-remarried persons, Church teaching requires them to refrain from sexual intimacy,” Chaput says. “This applies even if they must (for the care of their children) continue to live under one roof. Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist. Such individuals are encouraged to approach the Sacrament of Penance regularly, having recourse to God’s great mercy in that sacrament if they fail in chastity.”
Good luck with that.
Chaput says that even if the remarried Catholics somehow manage celibacy within their marriage (and manage to stay married without what many consider vital intimacy), they shouldn’t be allowed any role of responsibility.
“In other contexts, also, care must be taken to avoid the unintended appearance of an endorsement of divorce and civil remarriage; thus, divorced and civilly remarried persons should not hold positions of responsibility in a parish (e.g. on a parish council), nor should they carry out liturgical ministries or functions (e.g., lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion).”
That ought to keep people in the pews.
Chaput is even harder on LGBT Catholics under a section of the document entitled, “For persons who experience same-sex attraction.” Here he says that same-sex couples should also live as brother and brother or sister and sister. “And, as with those who are attracted to the opposite sex, some can find chastity very difficult,” he writes.
“Catholic belief, rooted in Scripture, reserves all expressions of sexual intimacy to a man and a woman covenanted to each other in a valid marriage,” he writes. “We hold this teaching to be true and unchangeable, tied as it is to our nature and purpose as children of a loving God who desires our happiness. Those with predominant same-sex attractions are therefore called to struggle to live chastely for the kingdom of God. In this endeavor they have need of support, friendship and understanding if they fail.”
They, too, should apparently be kept as far away from the altar as possible, according to Chaput. “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.”
Chaput’s take on Francis’s document on love comes as a disappointment to many who had read the document as one of greater flexibility on the various versions of marital love. That’s especially troubling since Chaput has been named by the U.S. Conference on Bishops to actually lead American clergy in the implementation of the papal exhortation.
When Francis put out the document in April, remarried Catholics saw hope in phrases like, “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.”
He also wrote that the confessional must not be a “torture chamber” but rather “an encounter with the Lord’s mercy.” Francis also rationalized that receiving the Eucharist is not the only way for Catholics to feel blessed, quoting his own Evangelii Gaudium exhortation that he published shortly after his coronation in 2013. “I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect.’”
Instead, Chaput’s vision of pastoring to these groups amounts to nothing more than a cold shower, which will ultimately push people away from the church in what is inarguably against everything Francis has been working towards in his papacy.
Still, Chaput’s guidelines only apply to those in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. Maybe it should be renamed the “City of No Love,” at least for Catholics.
Chaput does have a clause that some might take comfort in: “But since well-meaning people can err in matters of conscience, especially in a culture that is already deeply confused about complex matters of marriage and sexuality, a person may not be fully culpable for acting against the truth.”
Thank God for that.