Every Time the Pope Moves the Church Forward, Chaput Drags It Backward

By denying Communion to gay couples, Philly's Archbishop has proven he cares more about preventing "scandal" than preventing harm—which is exactly what led to the sex abuse cover-up.

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Joseph Chaput speaks at a press conference at the Vatican, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, to present the 2015 World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia, PA, from Sept. 22 to Sept. 27, 2015. Francis and 100 elderly priests will celebrate a Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 28 in honor of the elderly, part of his long-standing belief that old people shouldn't be shut away in retirement homes but should be actively cherished for their wisdom. The Mass for grandparents, and the group wedding that Francis celebrated last weekend, are aimed at focusing attention on family life ahead of a major two-year church study on family issues starting Oct. 5. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Joseph Chaput. | Photo by Domenico Stinellis/AP

Last week, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput released “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia,” regarding Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation issued in April. That profound and complex 263-page document affirmed “a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family” at the same time that it interrogated definitions of family, pastoral obligations and current practices. It chastised the Catholic Church for being too cold, too bureaucratic in its dealings with parishioners whose family structures or situations were not the accepted norm, and extolled sexuality rooted in pleasure, and unburdened by guilt.

Analyzing the text for the National Catholic Reporter, Joshua J. McElwee pointed to its more surprising moments:

Francis says that Catholic bishops and priests can no longer make blanket moral determinations about so-called “irregular” situations such as divorce and remarriage.

“It … can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace,” states the pontiff at one point in the document …

“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.”

While the pope does not specifically issue a new law or regulation allowing remarried Catholics writ-large to have the Eucharist, he significantly changes the church’s stance towards such persons. Like the final document issued by the 2015 Synod, he calls for “pastoral discernment” of individual situations.

He also proposes what he calls “the logic of pastoral mercy” in working with remarried persons …

“No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” he exhorts. “Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.”

Francis distinctly cautions against a one-size-fits-all approach to remarriage, same-sex unions and divorce. “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” he writes. But he notes that unconditional love requires flexibility, and says, “Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.”

With the guidelines released Friday, Archbishop Chaput — who has an inclination toward “rigorous pastoral care” — basically localized the teachings in the document by drawing his own conclusions, which adhere to traditional Catholic teachings and prohibit sexually active unwed partners, divorced couples and same-sex partners from receiving Communion.

Michael Shawn Winters at the National Catholic Reporter writes of Chaput:

Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines invite a very specific question: Why did Pope Francis and the synods of bishops bother? You would not know it from what he writes that anything had changed in the Church since the ink dried on Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation on family life. … Alas, in Philadelphia, it is all about the genitalia.

He further criticizes the cold, bureaucratic tone of Chaput’s guidelines, so divorced from the ample, broad-minded tone taken by Pope Francis:

There is no sense here that the two people might love each other. There is nothing that speaks to the ways God sometimes enters through the smallest of openings to bring His love and mercy to the people of God. There is nothing except the rules. Archbishop Chaput should be awarded an honorary doctorate in deontology.

The objective always trumps the subjective in this view of the world, although most of us have come to realize, and the best pastors have long known, that the truth resides in both the objective and the subjective, and if either is excluded, the other has overstepped its human bounds.

Winters is also dismayed by Chaput’s caution that pastors deal with divorced couples in a way “that will avoid giving scandal.” Winters writes:

Can I say that the concern about giving scandal has become so thorough here that the concern is itself a source of scandal. So intent are prelates like Archbishop Chaput in refusing to think there is anything really worth discussing here, they wish to shut down and foreclose the pope’s obvious invitation to discussion and adult decision making. They have the answers and anyone who questions them causes scandal.

On the same day that Chaput released his foot-stomping, retrograde document, Brian Gergely, a 46-year-old behavioral therapist for children, died by suicide in Central Pennsylvania. Gergely had been one of the most outspoken survivors of the horrific abuse perpetrated at the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese over a 40-year period. A lacerating grand jury report released last year detailed how at least two Pennsylvania bishops covered up “evidence of an institutional crisis of child sexual abuse,” which was found during an investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. The report notes,  “Agents did not find a couple files in a drawer that alleged molestation, but rather boxes and filing cabinets filled with the details of children being sexually violated by the institution’s own members.”

The files revealed sexual abuse by at least 50 priests in that single diocese, with hundreds of victims. The report notes that bishops Hogan and Adamec could have contacted police, and spared more victims. “Instead, they chose to shield the institution and themselves from ‘scandal.'”

A few months ago, Gergely told Guardian reporter Joanna Walters about how, when he was 10 years old, Monsignor Francis McCaa molested him in the sacristy and during confession at Holy Name Catholic Church in Ebensburg, Pa. “He pinned me to the desk. I was just a little guy.” In the grand jury report, McCaa is described as “a monster … as deadly a predator as any child molester can be.” Yet Bishop Joseph Hogan, who was aware of McCaa’s behavior, shielded him until the number of parents complaining got to be too much. He then sent him for “treatment,” and wrote him a glowing recommendation for a new post when his “treatment” was done. McCaa was never charged, and died in 2007.

Walters met Gergely in Ebensburg in March, at a public event with three state lawmakers advocating for action on child abuse legislation that had been stuck in committee in Harrisburg. That bill got out of committee, just a few days before Gergeley’s death, but was stripped of its “look-back” measure, which would have allowed past abuse victims to take perpetrators to court. Fellow abuse survivors speculated to PennLive reporter Ivey DeJesus that the legislative defeat was the last straw for Gergely, a “tormented soul” who graduated from Edinboro University and the Applied Behavioral Analysis Institute of Pennsylvania despite an alcohol and drug problem. He had recently authored a book, The Last Altar Boy: A Memoir, which was pending publication.

Obviously, Chaput had no personal involvement in the tragic case of Brian Gergely. But Gergely’s fellow survivors know the kind of Church Chaput represents all too well — the kind where higher-ups are exalted regardless of their lack of humanity, where preventing scandal is more important that preventing harm. The grand jury report noted that Bishop Adamec, in confronting the allegations of abuse, created a pay-out chart detailing how much the Church would pay to victims depending on offenses suffered (fondling: $10,000 to $25,000; sodomy: $50,000 to $175,000). The report reads, “The Grand Jury notes the cold bureaucracy of this chart.”

In his Pastoral Guidelines, Chaput refused to use common terms for members of the LGBT community, “adopting the awkward, and rude, circumlocution ‘those who experience same-sex attraction,'” Winters notes. It is utterly dehumanizing. When will Chaput and those in his circle understand that his hardline approach, which has already caused so much damage, only does the Church harm? I look forward to the day when the Philadelphia Archdiocese — as well as those in other parts of Pennsylvania — serve as a model for Francis’s supremely humane teachings. Brian Gergeley won’t be here to see it, though. He’ll be buried this week after a service at Holy Name Catholic Church, where he was once an altar boy for Father McCaa.

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