Could pope make big news in Philly?

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (left) confers with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput before their meeting with the Pontifical Council.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (left) confers with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput before their meeting with the Pontifical Council.
Posted: March 27, 2014

VATICAN CITY - Could Philadelphia be the place where Pope Francis announces a shift in church policy on family issues?

Reading between the lines of recent actions by the pope, many Vatican observers are wondering whether he might use the triennial World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015 to announce a shift on a topic like divorced Catholics or same-sex couples.

But the two archbishops in charge of the meeting say not so fast.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said Francis has acknowledged that he "can't change those [policies] himself."

"He said he's the son of the church," Chaput said in an interview. "But you can talk about in a more positive way or a way that's critical and harsh. And I think he rightly wants to talk about it in a way that's caring and loving."

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, agreed a shift in church doctrine on those issues is unlikely, if not impossible.

With Mayor Nutter, Gov. Corbett and other local leaders in Rome to plan for the 2015 gathering, a squadron of reporters from Philly has descended upon the Vatican to find out what the meeting could mean for the city.

The Vatican-based press corps, however, used the events to ask Paglia and Chaput whether a policy change was in the works.

The speculation is being fueled by unusual steps Francis has taken in preparation for an upcoming Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization."

The pope issued a questionnaire on family issues to dioceses around the world to be filled out by parishioners - not just by bishops, as is usually the case.

Questions include: "Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programs?"

Currently, divorced people who do not receive annulments, which are rare, cannot receive communion or the other sacraments.

On same-sex couples, which are not recognized by the church, it asks in part: "What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of unions?"

Chaput said it's typical for a pope to seek input before a synod.

"Maybe he did that because of the meeting, but I don't know," Chaput said. "They certainly do mesh, and I think they'll be covering many of the same topics."

Whether the pope makes an announcement or not, the issues will likely be debated at the Philadelphia meeting, Nutter said.

"The church has a view on a variety of issues but they also recognize the reality of life in the 21st century. . . . Pope Francis wants vigorous discussion and debate about a variety of issues, to bring things, in his words, 'Out of the shadows,' " Nutter said. "Many positive transformative things could very well come out of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia."


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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