Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leading culture warrior in the U.S. hierarchy, says he was upset by the debate over church teachings on gays and remarried Catholics at this month’s Vatican summit.
“I was very disturbed by what happened” at the synod, Chaput said. “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”
In a lecture delivered in Manhattan, Chaput also suggested that in the wake of the rapid series of court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage in more than 30 states, Catholic priests might consider opting out of certifying civil marriages as a sign of “principled resistance.”
Chaput is expected to host Pope Francis in Philadelphia next September for a global World Meeting of Families. His criticisms echoed complaints by other conservatives who were angry with Francis for encouraging a freewheeling discussion among the 190 cardinals and bishops at the Vatican’s two-week Synod on the Family.
The 70-year-old archbishop was not part of the Rome summit, which was convened as part of a two-year discussion on the church’s response to rapid changes in modern family dynamics. Media attention focused on proposals to be more welcoming to gay Catholics, and to cohabiting couples and the divorced and remarried, who are currently barred from receiving Communion.
An interim report on the closed-door discussions included calls for the church to reject an “all or nothing” approach to families in “irregular” situations, such as those who are divorced or living together, but not married.
The midpoint report also said there were “positive elements” in those relationships, as well as in the love between gay couples, and it said gay Catholics have “gifts and qualities” to offer the church and should be welcomed.
Such language, even if not final or official, was unprecedented for church leaders, and alarmed conservative churchmen spent the second week of the synod trying to water down that language for the final report.
They largely succeeded, though Francis said the church’s approach to gays and lesbians, and to divorced and remarried Catholics, should continue to be debated.
Chaput said the final synod report was an improvement. But he was concerned that it did not go far enough in clearing up the confusion and clearly restating church teachings on marriage and homosexuality.
“None of us are welcomed on our own terms in the church. We are welcomed on Jesus’ terms,” he said. “That’s what it means to be a Christian. You submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching. You don’t re-create your own body of spirituality.”
Chaput also raised eyebrows when he urged the nation’s Catholic bishops consider an end to signing civil marriage licenses for all couples in response to what he called the “new marriage regime” of same-sex civil marriage. Pennsylvania, along with more than 30 other states, now allows same-sex marriage.
By long-standing U.S. practice, a Catholic priest, like any licensed clergy, acts as an agent of the state when signing a couple’s marriage certificate.
“It’s hard to see how a priest or bishop could, in good conscience, sign a marriage certificate that merely identifies ‘Spouse A’ and ‘Spouse B,’” Chaput said in his prepared remarks.
“Refusing to conduct civil marriages now, as a matter of principled resistance, has vastly more witness value than being kicked out of the marriage business later by the government, which is a likely bet,” he said.
Chaput said he wasn’t necessarily endorsing that move yet, but “in the spirit of candor encouraged by Pope Francis,” he said the American bishops should “discuss and consider it as a real course of action.”
Chaput said that the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month not to review state appeals against gay marriage was a “tipping point” that confirmed that traditional believers are now a minority in society and on the defensive. He blasted gay activists for their “dishonesty” and “hatred” of gay marriage foes and said the portrayals of traditional believers as homophobic is “dishonest and evil.”
“We also need to thank God for the gift of this present, difficult moment,” Chaput said. “Because conflict always does two things: It purifies the church, and it clarifies the character of the enemies who hate her.”