A Catholic devotee prays at the St Mary's Cathedral in central Sydney
A Catholic devotee prays at the St Mary's Cathedral in central Sydney February 12, 2013. Reuters/Daniel Munoz

While Pope Francis is fine with divorced and remarried couples in the Catholic Church, a US archbishop has placed strict guidelines on them, saying they may only receive the Holy Communion if they refrain from having sex. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has issued a new set of pastoral guidelines that also instruct same-sex couples, unmarried couples and other “irregular” relationships to avoid sex.

The guidelines basically reflect the stance the late Pope John Paul II had taken about remarried couples, and disregard what Pope Francis suggested in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“joy of love”). Francis said divorced and civilly married Catholics may receive Communion after a process of “discernment” with a priest, adding that it could not be said that the couples are living in a state of mortal sin.

Chaput’s pastoral guidelines, however, closed the door left open by Francis to welcome couples in “irregular” relationships. Chaput said the couples in such situations are still welcome in the Church as long as they live together as “brother and sister.”

“Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open to the way to the Eucharist,” the guideline reads. “This is a hard teaching for many, but anything less misleads people about the nature of the Eucharist and the Church.”

The same rules apply to same-sex couples. They should live “chastely” if they want to receive Communion. Chaput also said those who “experience same-sex attraction” can still be in heterosexual marriage and have children.

For couples who are not married but living together, they must either separate, if they are unwilling to or cannot be married, or abstain from having sex while preparing themselves for marriage. Annulments, on the other hand, “cannot be granted informally or privately by individual pastors or priests. These must undergo the formal process set out under Church law.

Chaput, 71, called for compassion and understanding to those who do not meet the standards, but said that compassion does not mean ignoring the Church’s traditional discipline.

“Christian marriage, by its nature, is permanent, monogamous and open to life,” he said. The pastoral guidelines took effect starting July 1.

The Capuchin Franciscan wasn’t available for comment, but Rev. Dennis Gill, the director of the archdiocesan Office for Liturgy, told Philly.com that the guidelines were issued “as a way of applying all of Amoris Laetitia.” Pastors are urged to “accompany married couples in every type of situation” and be “companions” to those who fall short of the church’s teachings.

Michael Rocks, the president of a group of homosexual Catholics, the Philadelphia chapter of Dignity, said that Chaput’s guidelines will “not affect us because we have a non-relationship with the archdiocese.”