The papal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) was released shortly before the Prairie Messenger went to press. Stories in this issue give a glimpse into its contents, but varied initial reactions from around the world have been raised. Here are some, to give us some insights into the document:
The bishops of Canada joyfully welcomed the exhortation. They said in a media release, “As the national assembly of the Catholic bishops of this country, we encourage its prayerful reception among all the faithful, and recommend its careful study to married couples and families, and to those agencies and organizations working with them, as well as to pastors and those in consecrated life who are called to be at the service of family life.”
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston commented: “Amoris Laetitia is a joyful invitation for families to live the works of mercy and to receive the gift of God’s healing where there is sin and brokenness. As he has done time and again, Pope Francis challenges us to approach the weak with compassion, to ‘enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness.’ ’’
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said, “Personally, I was encouraged by what the pope has to say about preparing men and women for marriage and about our need to accompany couples, especially during those early years when they are just starting out on the path of their life together. I was also touched by our Holy Father’s call for all of us in the church to reach out with compassion to wounded families and persons living in difficult situations.”
Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said, “The Holy Father says some things that might surprise you — he is complimentary of the women’s movement and tells us we can learn from Eastern Rite married priests. His language is sometimes colourful and highly expressive — he warns us not to ‘simply apply moral laws to those living in irregular situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.’ Aside from this, my first impression is that this very readable text reveals a true pastor, someone who has honed a pastoral sensitivity as a priest for more than half a century.”
Bishop Peter A. Libasci of Manchester, New Hampshire said, “The church feels the challenge of a changing culture and must reassess its efforts in helping those who, for example, are divorced and remarried to know that they are welcome. Sometimes what the church actually teaches and why it holds these teachings is not communicated as effectively as others’ perceptions of who and what we are about. That is exactly why Pope Francis calls upon us to make a bold effort: so that all Catholics — indeed all people of goodwill — will see the effort that the church is making to be close to them, regardless of what their situation might be or how alienated from the church they may feel.”
Other commentators pointed out how the exhortation fell short of their expectations.
Candida R. Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, said, “He (Pope Francis) demonstrates exquisite sensitivity to the way that poverty, housing problems, violence, drugs, migration, arranged marriages, abandonment and persecution affect the family. Indeed, part of his rationale for pastoral sensitivity toward the divorced and remarried is his recognition that financial pressures often lead to remarriage. Francis’ compassion runs out when it comes to the kinds of marital problems associated with the wealthy. No compassionate caveats are offered for those using contraception or reproductive technology. Surrogacy is denounced in scathing terms and contraception (is) tied to greed and consumerism.”
Women’s Ordination Worldwide commented: “The Vatican offers seeds of hope for a church moving away from general and strict doctrinal rules to one of grace and growth. This challenging, and at times poetic document exhibits highs and lows, both championing pastoral discernment, the primacy of conscience, and even ‘the women’s movement,’ but is riddled with an incomplete and painful understanding of feminism, reproductive health, gender, and sexual identity.”
The pope’s positive exhortation on marriage and family life is a far cry from an earlier negative theology of marriage and sexuality exemplified by St. Augustine, for example. We hope it will support a healthy understanding and practice of family life today.