Newark Archbishop warns priests to stay the course on church doctrine

By Mark Mueller | NJ Advance Media for
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on October 14, 2015

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, center, answers questions during a recent press conference announcing a lawsuit against the Christie administration over restrictions on headstones sales.


At a time when Pope Francis is seeking to soften the image of the Roman Catholic church, stressing compassion over dogma, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is reminding priests of the archdiocese of their responsibility to maintain church doctrine.

In a letter sent to priests this week, Myers bluntly addresses Communion and other sacraments, the use of church facilities and the responsibility of Catholics to stay away from events that support groups or individuals in opposition to church teachings.

The language is sufficiently broad that it could be construed as a warning to those who support pro-abortion political candidates or those who defend gay rights, a message that has at times proved polarizing among Catholics in previous election cycles.

Myers, less than a year away from retirement, broke no new ground in the letter. But the timing of its release, less than a month after the pope's visit to the United States, could be seen as a pushback against Francis' gauzy message of inclusion.

It also comes as the pope and hundreds of bishops gather in Rome to debate how the church should move forward on the issue of Communion for divorced or remarried couples and on whether the church should be more welcoming to Catholics in same-sex relationships.

Myers made clear his own opinion in the letter, first disclosed by Religion News Service.

"The church will continue to cherish and welcome her members and invite them to participate in her life to the degree that their personal situation permits them honestly to do so," the archbishop wrote.

He then delved into specifics, warning that married couples must be in a union "recognized as valid by the church" to receive Communion and other sacraments.

"Non-Catholics and any Catholic who publicly rejects church teachings or discipline, either by public statements or by joining or supporting organization which do so, are not to receive the sacraments," he wrote.

Addressing the use of churches and other buildings owned by parishes or the archdiocese, Myers said they are to be used only by those people or groups in line with church teaching or, at the least, "not oppose them."

The third prong of his message focused on public gatherings.

"Catholics, especially ministers and others who represent the church, should not participate in or be present at public religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore church teachings or canon law," he wrote.

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, said the letter contained "no news flashes," reflecting standard views of the church and of Myers, Newark's archbishop since 2001.

The timing of the message, Goodness added, had nothing to do with the gathering in Rome. Rather, he said, it was spurred by questions from priests seeking guidance about how to balance Francis' message of inclusion with church doctrine.

"The reality is very simple," Goodness said. "He's had questions from time to time from priests who ask, 'How do we help to do what Pope Francis is asking us to do? How do we recognize the fact that some people are not in the same place as others are? How do we stay solid with Catholic teachings as we do this?'

"This was simply an internal event to give priests some guidelines," he said. "We don't want to let people think church teaching is going to change."

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