Second Sunday of Advent
4 December 2016
Once upon a time, Roman Catholic bishops sang in unison. Today one hears a variety of tunes, not always harmonious. Theological polarization from the papacy to Philadelphia is the new thing. All in all, I suspect it may be more a sign of life than a reason for anxiety.
This week’s reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent begins where our independence began, in Philadelphia, the city of fraternal love. In new guidelines issued by Archbishop Charles Chaput, Catholics in Philadelphia, who are divorced and civilly remarried, will be allowed to receive Holy Communion, ONLY if they abstain from sexual relations and live like “brother and sister.” Fraternal love?
In his guidelines, the Archbishop of Philadelphia also asks his priests to help Catholics who are attracted to people of the same sex but “find chastity very difficult” by encouraging them to seek penance more frequently. And of course, people living in a same-sex marriage cannot receive Holy Communion, because they are living in serious sin.
The Philadelphia guidelines are Archbishop Chaput’s response to Pope Francis’ appeal to bishops, in his apostolic exhortation on family love Amoris Laetitia that they be more understanding of divorced and remarried Catholics as well as people in same-sex relationships. Amoris Laetitia called on bishops to show greater mercy and flexibility to bring Catholics back to the church. I don’t think brothers and sisters will be running back to the Catholic Church in Philadelphia.
They might, however, out West, where we hear a different episcopal sound.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, by way of a follow-up to a diocesan synod held in October, has asked his priests to encourage Catholics, who are divorced and remarried, to consider whether “God is calling them to return to the Eucharist.” McElroy has instructed his pastors to post notices in parish bulletins, inviting divorced and remarried Catholics to “utilize the internal forum of conscience” in making their decisions whether they should receive Holy Communion. The decision is theirs, the bishop stressed.
Back on the East coast, in the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has praised the pro-life stance of the President-elect Donald Trump and said he hopes the new administration will correct eight years of abuses by the Obama administration. “Sadly,” Cardinal Dolan stressed, “the Obama administration has been an ally to abortion advocates in advancing oppressive policies. It imposed the so-called HHS mandate forcing even religious organizations to cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their health insurance plans.”
Cardinal Dolan did not comment about Donald Trump’s (pro-life?) rhetoric about immigrants and refugees. His new cardinal neighbor, Joseph Tobin, however, has been more than outspoken. Tobin, the new Cardinal Archbishop of Newark — as the crow flies, only about 9 miles from Dolan in New York City — warns that the church will have four difficult years ahead if it insists on providing a welcome to immigrants and refugees during a Donald Trump presidential administration. Tobin stressed that anyone who wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out migrants — as President-elect Trump has proposed — is “not Christian.”
Another newly-named U.S. Cardinal, Kevin J. Farrell, believes U.S. bishops, working together, should have discussed pastoral guidelines for implementing Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia, before individual bishops, like Archbishop Chaput, began issuing guidelines for their own dioceses. Farrell, the former Bishop of Dallas, has just been appointed prefect of the new Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. About Philadelphia’s Chaput, Farrell is very clear: “I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no…. 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.”
Some fascinating contemporary episcopal rhetoric, is echoing from Australia as well. Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane says it is time for a Catholic re-thinking of some traditional Catholic terms if the church is going to have any relevance and credibility today. Terms he specifically mentioned are: the “indissolubility” of marriage; the “intrinsically disordered” nature of homosexual acts; calling divorce and civil remarriage “adultery;” and the old maxim of “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
One final bit of contemporary Roman Catholic drama. The senior Vatican lawyer, Archbishop Pio Vito Pinto, who leads the Vatican’s appeal court, says that by calling into question Pope Francis’ faithfulness to Catholic doctrine, four cardinals (see last week’s blog), among them the U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, have caused a “grave scandal” in the Catholic Church and should be demoted and forced to surrender their red hats.
Cardinal Burke, who already has had to surrender his Vatican job, and has no desire to hand in his crimson hat and cape, responded by launching a crusade of prayer on December 1st, called “Operation Storm Heaven,” praying: “That bishops and priests will have the courage to teach the Truth and defend the Faith against all her enemies both within the Church and outside the Church.”
I close with a citation from the Australian Archbishop Coleridge, who stressed that being pastoral means getting “in touch with the facts of human experience.”
“It means,” says Coleridge, “that we, like God, abandon the world of abstraction to engage the real lives of real people…. This will mean a new kind of listening to the truth of people’s experience. From a new listening, will come a new language that people can understand because it’s in touch with their lives. That’s what it means to be a truly pastoral Church.”