I just finished reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The access to the .pdf file is here. It is a culmination of two years of Vatican-sponsored meetings and input concerning the family. With the explosion of the number of divorces, there has been an increasing pressure from liberals (progressives) to change the Church’s response to those who have divorced and remarried. This is especially because these persons are not allowed to partake of the Eucharist in the mass. The divorced complained that a repentant murderer can receive communion while they can’t. On the conservative (traditionalist) side, marriage is held as a metaphor for Christ’s relationship to His church, and therefore indissoluble. One of my own interests is from the viewpoint of how women are treated by the Church, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some understanding.
Pope Francis agrees to the Christ-Church-marriage comparison, but with the understanding that people are not as perfect as Christ and therefore their marriages will not be perfect. The pope continues to hold up a good marriage as a difficult but attainable goal, worthy of all its efforts. Yet he asks for the mercy of those who interact with married couples and for the divorced and re-married Catholics who feel ostracized by not being allowed communion. The pope maintains these people are not excommunicated and should not be made to feel as such. To conservatives who don’t want change, any thought of giving them communion is a liberal viewpoint that they fear will lead to a downhill slide of the entire institution of marriage.
I found some of the most refreshing sentences in the whole exhortation Amoris Laetitia to be in Section 36 and 37. In 36, Pope Francis comments on the overbearing emphasis of Church leaders on procreation that made Catholicism seem more about having the maximum amount of children instead of focusing on the divinity of Jesus Christ. The section has this sentence:
Then too, we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation.
Then, speaking of clergy, in 37 Pope Francis wrote:
We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.How refreshing this is in contrast to the effort to control people.
Another section I like is 54, which speaks of women’s rights. It says emancipation of women is not to be blamed for all the woes of marriage. The pope writes:
If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women.
Thank goodness. Let us hope this is a dawn finally of a new worldview about women. I’m not saying women always will make the right decisions or discern correctly, but I believe we can be as capable as men of doing so.
It remains to be seen what will actually happen in response to the paper. The Germans have been chafing at the bit to make changes, as are progressive groups of priests in Ireland and the US. But the tensions persist because there are plenty of conservatives up in arms. One is a cannon lawyer, Cardinal Raymond Burke. He wrote an article in the conservative National Catholic Register about Amoris Laetitia, (link here) basically saying that bishops and priests don’t really have to follow it. Conservative bloggers are complaining, as seen in this post with links to others (Rorate Caeli here).
Pope Francis, though he says he encourages dialogue, has in turn had some pretty harsh words for conservatives (article here). The tensions are simmering and though it is rather fascinating to watch, it is not good for the Church to be mired in disagreements. When Catholics, leaders or lay, are so diverse, we need to pray for discernment. I’ve found, though, that persons can be so tied to one worldview, they can’t imagine any other having merits. This is a block to listening to other people.
However, what happens when different people are convinced the Holy Spirit is leading each of them but in different ways? Then we obviously have a problem of understanding exactly how the Holy Spirit leads and what He is leading toward. It may be that we need to consider what each other is saying and seek God’s will in mutual prayer. Hopefully we can all improve in discernment together.