The Roman Catholic Church’s top official in Philadelphia said Catholics who divorce and then remarry must still “refrain from sexual intimacy” with their spouses if they want to receive Holy Communion. The bold statements come from Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput who issued new pastoral guidelines for clergy and other church leaders. The new guidelines went into effect on July 1, and also address same-sex couples and unmarried couples who are cohabiting. The instructions are a response to Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, or ‘joy of love,’ document on family that was unveiled in April and which some conservative Catholics believe led to a lack of clarity on Church doctrine. Chaput’s directives are believed to be the first such set of guidelines issued by an American Catholic leader.
According to Chaput’s instructions, divorced Catholics who remarry should abstain from sex and live “like brother and sister” if they expect to receive Holy Communion and haven’t had their previous marriages annulled. The Catholic Church considers a second marriage — even after a legal divorce — adultery, unless the first marriage was annulled, meaning the Church officially declared it invalid. The guidelines go on to prohibit people in same-sex relationships and couples living together out of wedlock from serving on parish councils and carrying out other official Church duties. Allowing persons in “irregular” relationships, “no matter how sincere,” to hold positions of responsibility would “offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community,” Chaput wrote in the document. He acknowledged that the guidelines he issued are a “hard teaching.”