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Archbishop Chaput: The Church Needs to Say Any Kind of Extra-Marital Sex is “Disordered”

Archbishop Charles Chaput

© Matt Rourke/AP/SIPA

Diane Montagna - published on 11/20/14

Leader of Philadelphia Church discusses plans for World Meeting of Families, to be attended by Pope Francis.

The Holy See confirmed this week that Pope Francis will visit the United States for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, September 22-27, 2015. The historic visit will fall just one week before the opening of the General Synod of Bishops on the Family to be held in Vatican City, October 4-25, 2015.

When the announcement came, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia was on hand at the Vatican attending the Humanum Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage. The archbishop spoke to some 350 participants about next year’s World Meeting of Families at the colloquium’s final session.

Aleteia sat down with the archbishop to discuss the Humanum Colloquium, how the Church should care pastorally for people who have been abandoned by their spouses through a culture of no fault divorce, and his hopes for the upcoming World Meeting of Families.  

Archbishop Chaput, today you began your remarks by saying: “This is the most interesting colloquium I’ve ever attended in my life.” Why?

Well, it was interesting on three levels: the content was extraordinary, always extraordinary; the composition of the crowd was unique in terms of its religious and cultural dimensions; and we were all on the same page in terms of the complementarity of man and woman being at the root of what marriage and family is all about. And to experience a gathering where people are on the same page, where people come from varied backgrounds, you just don’t experience that. 

The quality of the presentations was extraordinary. For just one of those things to take place at a conference is good. For all three of them to take place is just amazing.

What do you think is the significance of having this colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage here at the Vatican?

It’s the best place in the world to have anything when it comes to religious dialogue, because even for those who aren’t Christians, the Pope is certainly the most prominent religious spokesperson in the world. For those of us who are Christians — Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox alike  everybody acknowledges a unique role of the Pope in the life of the Christian community. And then, for those of us who are Catholics, we are very proud of being able to pull something like this off in this kind of setting.

How do you think this Colloquium might pave the way for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia?

I hope it will lead to a greater participation on the part of people who aren’t Christians. I went out of my way to welcome them, as I thought it would feel strange to them to attend a Christian event. But as I mentioned about our speakers, we even have an atheist speaking. We simply looked for the best speakers. Now, we’ve asked him to speak about subjects in a way that would not be contrary to Church teaching, but our goal was to have the best quality presentations and the best knowledge available. 

Twenty-four percent of our speakers are not Catholic. Most of them are Christians. A significant number are Jews. We have a Mormon leader who is talking about how Mormons keep families together, because they have a great reputation when it comes to family life, and we have an atheist who is speaking, which is very interesting. 

There was a fair amount of controversy at the recent synod regarding Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to allow those who are divorced and “remarried” to received Holy Communion.

I think there are many more people who are divorced and remarried who go to Communion anyway. If you want to be just clear about it, that seems to be the more prominent position. They kind of ignore the Church’s position that you shouldn’t receive Communion if you’re in a second “marriage.”

What should be done for Catholics who are divorced against their will, in a culture of no fault divorce?

I think we must do our best to support them. Spousal abandonment is a big issue. That’s what this is about, spousal abandonment. And it’s very important for those people to have a voice in this dialogue. There are many people who are faithful to their spouse even after being abandoned, because they believe in the Church’s teaching. And to say that their sacrifice and their heroic witness isn’t of value would be a stupid kind of thing to do. 

But what do you do about the fact that there are many, many people who ignore the Church’s teaching on this altogether, and are very casual about receiving Communion? No one seems to talk about that issue. 

What do you think should be done?

What can be done in all of this is to accompany people pastorally. In all cases, you don’t just give a principle and say, “Follow it.” It never works. But you don’t help them by not articulating what you believe to be true. So I think you articulate what you believe to be true, but at the same time you accompany them, and encourage them, and help them every step along the way.

Does the Church need to be clearer? 

Imitating the Holy Father, [I’d say] I think the devil is very active in the world. And we know that the great tactic of the devil is to be confusing. Because when you’re confused you can do anything you want, because you’re not sure what’s right and what’s wrong.

I think confusion is of the devil. I really believe that. So we should do everything we can to make sure that the Church’s teaching is clear and loving, and that we live that doctrine clearly and lovingly and not just talk about it. But that doesn’t mean that you reject anybody, and that doesn’t mean that you chase people away or condemn them. It means you accompany them in all this, but you do it with clarity.

If we don’t evangelize clearly, the world will evangelize in our place. And that leads to disaster. 

How does this apply with regard to someone who is homosexual? The Catechism states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and that the homosexual tendency is “objectively disordered.” How does one lovingly explain this to a young man, for instance, who finds this tendency within himself, who perhaps feels shame, and who doesn’t know who to turn to? How does the Church talk to him?

Well, first of all the Church has to talk to the person about it. And often that’s not the case. I don’t think in my whole life as a priest I’ve ever heard a homily on homosexuality. I talk to people, and they say they’ve never heard one either. So the thing is we’re not sitting around condemning people. We’re not talking about it at all. 

I think it’s very, very important to talk about the fact that any kind of extramarital sex is wrong, and not just focus on homosexual sex. Any kind of misuse of our sexual powers is wrong. Any sexual activity outside of marriage is disordered. So I think if we use this vocabulary, we have to use it about all of human sexuality and not just focus on people with same-sex attraction. So it has to be in that context. But at the same time, I think we have to make it very clear that, no matter what your struggles are, you’re loved by the Church. 

Some people will use our teaching against us. They’ll beat us over the head and say, “You don’t love me, because you don’t let me do what I want to do.” And there’s nothing we can do about that but to keep loving people, and not be terrified or put off by that kind of hostility.

You know, kids do that to their parents all the time. They get mad at them and call them names. But their parents shouldn’t stop speaking to and loving their children.

What’s your hope for the World Meeting of Families next September?

That it transforms family life in the Church and in world through a very dynamic message. It’s going to be a learning experience, a supportive experience, and I hope the papal visit puts a cap on that. 

Do you think there is a significance to the World Meeting of Families being held in Philadelphia, where the United States Declaration of Independence was signed?


What’s the link?

It’s a providential link. I don’t know that that was on anybody’s mind in the planning stage, but we hope to make that connection. We hope to have a workshop on what the notions of marriage and family life were like at the founding of the country. What was it like in 1776? What did they think about marriage and family life then? That will be an interesting presentation.

See for more about the World Meeting of Families 2015.

ParentingPope FrancisPope Francis USAVatican
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