Archbishop Chaput’s Remarks to CNS About ‘Amoris Laetitia’

A Nov. 15 article published by the U.S. bishops’ news service omitted much of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s response to critical remarks by Cardinal-elect Kevin Farrell.

Archbishop Charles Chaput with Pope Francis at a June 2015 Wednesday audience.
Archbishop Charles Chaput with Pope Francis at a June 2015 Wednesday audience. (photo: L'Osservatore Romano)

PHILADELPHIA — In the wake of the publication by Catholic News Service (CNS) of an article in which Cardinal-elect Kevin Farrell directly criticized Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has responded by publishing the full text of comments made by the archbishop to CNS.

CNS is the official news service of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Nov. 15 CNS article detailed critical comments made by Cardinal-elect Farrell, the former bishop of Dallas who in September was appointed by Pope Francis as the first prefect of the newly created Vatican Office for Laity, the Family and Life, regarding the manner in which the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) is being implemented in some dioceses in the United States.

According to CNS, the cardinal-elect said that he believed the U.S. bishops should have discussed how to implement the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation at the level of the U.S. bishops’ conference, before individual dioceses began to implement their own pastoral guidelines.

Archbishop Chaput is among the U.S. bishops who have recently instituted guidelines about the document, which has generated controversy over the ambiguity of its wording about reception of Communion by civilly- divorced-and-remarried Catholics. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s pastoral guidelines came into effect July 1.

In the CNS article, Cardinal-elect Farrell also specifically criticized Archbishop Chaput’s approach to the reception-of-Communion issue.

Reported CNS: “I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no,” the cardinal-designate said. “I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at — each case as it is presented to us.”

“I think that is what our Holy Father is speaking about — when we talk about accompanying, it is not a decision that is made irrespective of the couple,” he said.

“Obviously, there is an objective moral law,” he said, but you will never find two couples who have the same reason for being divorced and remarried.


The Omitted Responses

The CNS article contained some excerpts from Archbishop Chaput’s response to questions submitted by the bishops’ news service, referencing his understanding of the reception-of-Communion issue as well as why he judged it appropriate to issue the archdiocesan pastoral guidelines when he did.

But much of the content of what the archbishop communicated to CNS was not reflected in the Nov. 15 article.

Notably omitted were remarks by Archbishop Chaput noting that he, unlike Cardinal-elect Farrell, was a participant at the 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome and now serves as a member of the worldwide Synod of Bishops’ permanent council; questioning whether Cardinal-elect Farrell is familiar with the actual content of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s pastoral guidelines; emphasizing the archbishop’s view that “every bishop in the United States feels a special fidelity to Pope Francis as Holy Father”; and the archbishop’s closing comments noting that authority over the governance of individual dioceses rests exclusively with the local bishop, not with national bishops’ conferences.

Concluded Archbishop Chaput, “As a former resident bishop, the cardinal-designate surely knows this, which makes his comments all the more puzzling, in the light of our commitment to fraternal collegiality.”


Below is the full text of Archbishop Chaput’s responses to the questions from Catholic News Service, as published by the archdiocesan news website, :


1. Is your ad hoc committee planning a consultation with the entire USCCB about implementing Amoris Laetitia?

It’s already done. The committee solicited thoughts and experiences from bishops around the country. That work was completed some weeks ago. The committee report was then presented to Archbishop Kurtz as USCCB president. Cardinal DiNardo, as the new conference president, will presumably act on it as he and conference leadership find appropriate.

2. Why did you feel it was important to issue pastoral guidelines in your archdiocese that went into effect July 1?

Because both the final synod document and Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia encouraged local bishops to do so. Actually, you ask a rather odd question. It’s more sensible to ask: Why would a bishop delay interpreting and applying Amoris Laetitia for the benefit of his people? On a matter as vital as sacramental marriage, hesitation and ambiguity are neither wise nor charitable.

You’ll recall, I’m sure, that I was a delegate to the 2015 synod and then elected and appointed to the synod’s permanent council. So I’m familiar with the material and its context in a way that Cardinal-designate Farrell may not be.

Amoris Laetitia was issued on April 8. Our guidelines were actually ready by June 1, after consulting our Priests’ Council, Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, auxiliary bishops, seminary faculty and a variety of liturgical, canonical and theological experts, both lay and clergy — all of whom made excellent suggestions. We waited until July 1 to complete a final review. Other bishops have issued their own guidelines and responses consistent with the circumstances of their dioceses, which only they, as local bishops, know with real intimacy.

3. Cardinal-designate Farrell has told CNS that he believes that, under Chapter 8’s guidance, a pastor cannot say to all divorced and civilly remarried: “Yes, receive Communion.” But neither can they say to all: “No, it’s not possible, unless you live as brother and sister.” How would you respond to this observation?

I wonder if Cardinal-designate Farrell actually read and understood the Philadelphia guidelines he seems to be questioning. The guidelines have a clear emphasis on mercy and compassion. This makes sense because individual circumstances are often complex. Life is messy. But mercy and compassion cannot be separated from truth and remain legitimate virtues. The Church cannot contradict or circumvent Scripture and her own magisterium without invalidating her mission. This should be obvious. The words of Jesus himself are very direct and radical on the matter of divorce.

4. Do you have any other comments you would like to make?

I think every bishop in the United States feels a special fidelity to Pope Francis as Holy Father. We live that fidelity by doing the work we were ordained to do as bishops. Under canon law — not to mention common sense — governance of a diocese belongs to the local bishop as a successor of the apostles, not to a conference, though bishops’ conferences can often provide a valuable forum for discussion. As a former resident bishop, the cardinal-designate surely knows this, which makes his comments all the more puzzling, in the light of our commitment to fraternal collegiality.