Adding to a reputation as the U.S. bishops' family-life point man, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has been named head of a working group aimed at implementing Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family.
Chaput was selected by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to coordinate "an informal working group" of five bishops assigned the task of "furthering the reception and implementation" of Amoris Laetitia across U.S. dioceses.
Other bishops rounding out the working group all chair conference committees: Raleigh, N.C., Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations; St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance; Buffalo, N.Y., Bishop Richard Malone, of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron of the Committee on Doctrine.
Chaput is chairman-elect of the family life committee.
News of the appointments was first reported Tuesday on Twitter by Francis Rocca of The Wall Street Journal, which was later confirmed by the bishops' conference.
In a statement Monday, the conference said the working group has three purposes:
- "to assist bishops with the positive reception and ongoing implementation of Amoris Laetitia";
- "to learn the various initiatives taking place in the local Churches to assist this positive reception";
- and "to update the Holy See on various initiatives, especially with the hope of offering our Holy Father an update at the time of the annual Curial Visits."
The conference anticipates the working group will "have a fuller understanding of the range of positive efforts" by mid-September.
Francis released the 263-page Amoris Laetitia on April 8, following a more-than-three-year synodal process that began in 2013 with a worldwide diocesan questionnaire on family life issues, before moving to the October 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops and the Ordinary Synod of Bishops the following year.
The working group appointment comes as the latest for Chaput concerning family issues.
Chaput is the only member of the working group who attended part of the synod held in Rome, elected by his fellow bishops as a delegate to last October's synod. There, he was also chosen among 12 elected members to the synod's 12-member permanent council.
A month after the synod, the U.S. bishops selected Chaput as the chairman-elect of the family life committee. In September, his Philadelphia archdiocese hosted the pope among hundreds of thousands attending the World Meeting of Families. There, he observed a "hunger for reaffirmation" of current church teachings on family life, Chaput, a critic of proposals to permit divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist, said during the synod.
"People want it and want to live it and were very, very enthusiastic about it," he said.
In his intervention Oct. 7 earlier at the synod, he described the instrumentum text as one that "engenders a subtle hopelessness," which then "leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals – which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church."
"We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them – not confirm them in their errors," the archbishop said.
Chaput reinforced that point in a column days after the exhortation's release, writing about Chapter 8 -- which discusses divorced and remarried Catholics -- that "we need to remember that Catholic teaching is not an 'ideal' to be attained by the few, but a way of life that can and should be lived by all of us.
"It would be a mistake to misread the compassionate spirit of Amoris Laetitia as a license to ignore Christian truth on matters of substance -- matters that include the Catholic teaching on marriage, and the discipline of the Church in the administration of the sacraments," Chaput wrote.
[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]