PHILADELPHIA (ChurchMilitant.com) - Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is issuing pastoral guidelines implementing "Amoris Laetitia," Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation. The guidelines affirm that those who are divorced and remarried, cohabiting and unmarried, or in a same-sex partnership must "refrain from sexual intimacy" if they wish to receive Holy Communion.
The archbishop is the first U.S. prelate to promulgate such guidelines, called for by "Amoris Laetitia," issued by Pope Francis in March. The Pope's exhortation sums up his reflections regarding the 2014 and 2015 Synod on the Family.
Archbishop Chaput's six-page guideline states, "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."
The guidelines acknowledge, "This is a hard teaching for many, but anything less misleads people about the nature of the Eucharist and the Church."
Archbishop Chaput attended the Synod on the Family last October. In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) named Chaput chairman of a five-bishop committee charged with promoting "Amoris Laetitia" in the United States.
Father Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Liturgy, commented Tuesday that Philadelphia's guidelines were "much larger than Communion and irregular relationships." He said they were "a way of applying all of Amoris Laetitia," and a guide for pastors to "accompany married couples in every type of situation." Gill noted that pastors were thus called to be "companions" to those who fall short of the Church's teachings and to guide them toward holiness.
A professor at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Fr. Gill spoke of various ambiguities in "Amoris Laetitia." "A lot of teachers and theologians feel it may not have been as well expressed as it should have been."
Certain parts of the papal exhortation caused an uproar in the media after the document was issued in March. There was much uncertainty as to how various passages were to be interpreted. Of special concern for many Catholics was the question of whether Holy Communion would be administered to the divorced and civilly remarried and to active homosexuals.
Pope St. John Paul II, in paragraph 84 of his apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio," addressed this question.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who … when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.
In his guidelines, Abp. Chaput places great emphasis on possible scandal occasioned by chaste couples receiving Holy Communion while living in irregular unions.
[W]here pastors give Communion to divorced and remarried persons trying to live chastely, they should do so in a manner that will avoid giving scandal or implying that Christ's teaching can be set aside. In other contexts, also, care must be taken to avoid the unintended appearance of an endorsement of divorce and civil remarriage.
To avoid this scandal Chaput also directs that "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)."