Same-sex marriage and Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics "can't be a reality in our lives," Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a gathering of conservative Catholics this week.
His remarks seemed to signal that next year's World Meeting of Families here would send no mixed messages such as those coming from the Vatican's recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
"The public message" from the synod, or bishops assembly, that ended Saturday in Rome "was confusion," Chaput told an New York audience Monday night. "Confusion is of the devil," he added.
In September, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will host the triennial World Meeting, a five-day gathering sponsored by the Vatican that traditionally celebrates and teaches the Catholic understanding of marriage and family life.
Chaput, a leading conservative in the American Catholic hierarchy, said in his speech he was "very disturbed" that an Oct. 13 interim report by the synod of 183 bishops had suggested the church might soften or reverse its positions on these topics.
The synod's final report Saturday dropped all the language of the earlier report that spoke of "welcoming" homosexuals, praised their "gifts," and proposed that some same-sex partnerships can be positive.
It had also called for ways to let some divorced and remarried Catholics receive communion, from which they are barred.
That report, however, is not the final word. It will serve as the conversation-starter for a much larger "general" synod on the family in Rome next October, two weeks after the World Meeting.
Pope Francis is expected to issue his own document on ministry to families early in 2016. It was widely noted that he appointed the authors of the synod's interim report, suggesting he may have endorsed its liberal views.
And with Francis expected to attend the World Meeting, there was speculation that the gathering might invite discussion of same-sex marriage or communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
Chaput's remarks made clear he was standing with the bishops who had pressed for the traditional views of the final document.
"There's no doubt the church has a clear position on what marriage means," Chaput said in remarks following a lecture hosted by First Things, a magazine of conservative Catholicism.
"You don't receive Communion unless you're in communion with the teachings of Christ," he said, and "gay marriage is not a possibility in God's plan."
His spokesman, Kenneth Gavin, on Wednesday said Chaput was unable to discuss his remarks because he was attending the installation of Bishop Daniel Thomas, a former auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, as new head of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio.
Earlier, in his speech, Chaput decried the declining role of religion in shaping public mores. He said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Oct. 6 not to hear the appeals by several states on their bans to same-sex marriage was a "tipping point in American public discourse."
The high court's decision signified that "the dismemberment that any privileged voice that biblical faith once had in our public square is just about complete."
He said people of traditional faith should not retreat from public discourse. Rather, he said, "our job is to be the healthy cells in a society. . . . We need to work as long as we can to nourish the good that remains in our society."
Matthew Schmitz, deputy editor of First Things, said Wednesday that he did not believe Chaput's remarks represented a rebuke of Francis for inviting the bishops' synod to engage in a lively debate over how best to minister to modern families.
Instead, he said, Chaput appeared to be dismayed that the synod had "become an opportunity for confusion and consternation" that looked in the news media like "a battle between heretics on the one hand and crusty old bigots on the other."
"That's not what the church looks like," Schmitz said. "It's more like a muddling middle."
Previous speakers in the lecture series' 27-year history have included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.