In the world of Catholic news, we were almost headed for a lull between the pope’s late June interview on the plane back from Armenia and the early July appointments of Vatican communications experts (two Americans among them, nary an Italian or a cleric).
But in between, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia released his pastoral guidelines for the implementation of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the fruit of the two Synods on the family.
Phew! Catholic social media now had fumes to light a fire, burning faster and brighter than a California wildfire in a drought year.
Like Francis, Chaput discusses marriage and sexuality in light of Church teachings. However, the headlines were about the divorced and remarried [whose previous marriages have not received a decree of nullity from a Church tribunal] not being able to receive Holy Communion.
Honestly, there’s nothing new here. The Church has consistently taught this; Henry VIII famously opposed it when he created the Church of England.
Yes, there’s been a lot of recent confusion about the topic. Many pushed for change in the Church teaching, but then even one of the highest ranking advocates for this change ultimately admitted that the pope had not endorsed his plan.
Chaput simply restated not only what the Church has always taught, but what Pope Francis articulated in his own document. While dissenters or progressives declared that the document did not go far enough, the so-called conservatives or traditionalists started to pick it apart.
Yet nowhere did the pope propose a change in the teaching of the Church. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, founder of the John Paul II Institute in Rome, an eminent moral theologian and close adviser to St. John Paul II, recently gave an interview maintaining that the document makes no break with Church teaching.
Caffarra also gave a brief analysis praising specific parts of the exhortation, stating clearly that confusion does not result in a change of doctrine, but rather prompts a return to the preceding clarity.
Returning to Chaput’s guidelines, I was struck by how much he focuses on preparing his priests and other pastoral workers for the very challenging work of accompanying those of us in irregular situations so that we may be more fully integrated into the life of the Church: “[B]ishops must arrange for the accompaniment of estranged and hurting persons with guidelines that faithfully reflect Catholic belief.”
It’s no secret that those tasked with pastoral roles are not always well equipped to help those of us who come with our complicated and messy personal situations. Yet, they’re on the front lines. They need the tools to serve well.
Ideally, this document could provide a basis for helping our first-responders. I could see it used as a guide to plan clergy study days, etc., where various experts would be brought in to work through specific scenarios relating to the different sections in the document.
Like Amoris Laetitia, the guidelines are about marriage. The part about communion for those in irregular situations are simply that: a part of the document, one of many parts.
Nevertheless the uninformed fury took aim, perhaps most notably in a tweet from the Mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, who called the archbishop’s actions “not Christian.” Given that Chaput reiterates Church teaching and the pope’s own language, one might reasonably surmise that the mayor thinks similarly about the pope.
Unless, of course, he follows the simplistic and politicized narrative of Francis as a break from the continuity of the Church. Regardless, tweeting such an antagonistic response indicates no desire for dialogue. After all, 144 characters don’t lend themselves to much more than a verbal missile.
There’s a certain appeal to this narrative of disunity, for those who want to see the Church change core teachings and for those who enjoy the media buzz of conflicting narratives. But the facts indicate that Chaput is singing from the same song sheet as Pope Francis.
John Allen, the editor of Crux, made a similar comparison of Popes Benedict and Francis, calling them the Everly Brothers of Popes.
Sure, there are differences between them, just as there are differences between the Bishop of Rome and the Archbishop of Philadelphia (and many other bishops). I grant that there’s a legitimate discussion as to whether Pope Francis personally is open to changes.
But to situate Chaput’s guidelines in the context of a narrative of discontinuity comes across as disingenuous, when both bishops are promulgating the same teachings.
Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian. She serves as the Associate Dean of the Augustine Institute’s Orange County campus.