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US archbishop says divorced Catholics should avoid sex, live 'as brother and sister'

Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a new set of pastoral guidelines for clergy and other leaders of the archdiocese.

Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput attends a press conference at the Vatican.
Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput attends a press conference at the Vatican.
Image: Riccardo De Luca/PA

THE HEAD OF the Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia is closing the door opened by Pope Francis to letting civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion, saying the faithful in his archdiocese can only do so if they abstain from sex and live “as brother and sister.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is known for strongly emphasising strict adherence to Catholic doctrine, issued a new set of pastoral guidelines for clergy and other leaders in the archdiocese that went into effect 1 July.

The guidelines reflect a stance taken by St John Paul II.

“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 read.

‘The Joy of Love’

Church teaching says that unless divorced and remarried Catholics received an annulment — a church decree that their first marriage was invalid — they are committing adultery and cannot receive the sacrament of Communion.

Chaput says the new instructions stem from Francis’ sweeping document on family life released in April. That document — called “The Joy of Love” — opened a door to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

Francis didn’t create a church wide admission to Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics as some progressives had wanted. But in the April document, he suggested bishops and priests could do so on a case-by-case basis in what could become a significant development in church practice.

Confusion

John Paul II, in his 1982 document on the family, proposed the brother-sister option for divorced and remarried couples as the only way they could receive Communion.

In Francis’ revision of that document, which conservatives like Chaput have criticised for sowing confusion, Francis made clear that John Paul’s proposal was simply unrealistic and unhealthy for families.

In a footnote to “The Joy of Love,” Francis wrote that many people, while acknowledging the brother-sister option, “point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.”

The Philadelphia guidelines say Catholics in same-sex partnerships, civilly remarried parishioners and unmarried couples living together should not be permitted to serve on parish councils, instruct the faithful, serve as lectors or dispense Communion.

Such “irregular” relationships “offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community,” the guidelines state, acknowledging it is a “hard teaching.”

Poll: Should divorce waiting times be reduced to two years?>

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