CORNWALL, Ont. (CCN) — Cardinal Marc Ouellet warned Canada’s bishops against “alarmist” interpretations of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love.”
Though the document’s Chapter 8 opens the door by way of a footnote to the sacraments of penance and the eucharist “in certain cases,” these are “exceptions,” the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops told more than 80 bishops and eparchs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered for their annual plenary Sept. 25 - 29.
The document does not signal “changes to doctrine or to sacramental discipline,” but represents a pastoral approach taking into consideration “the good of the person” and his or her concrete circumstances, said Ouellet, the former Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada before his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 to his present post.
“Any alarmist interpretation” that says the document is “a break with tradition,” or a “permissive interpretation that celebrates access to the sacraments” for the divorced and remarried, is “unfaithful to the text and to the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff,” Ouellet said.
He noted the “contrasting reactions” to the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, “delighting some, worrying others, leaving none indifferent.”
Some saw in it a welcome, a new openness for the divorced and remarried, others saw it as a risk, “a break with the traditional doctrine and discipline” of the Catholic Church, he said. Chapter 8 became the “interpretive key” for the document, making people judge it as either “positive and welcome,” or “ambiguous and risky.”
Instead, Chapter 8 is a call for a “new pastoral conversion,” to comfort and help suffering persons, to better integrate them in the community and to help them live out their vocations, he said.
Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness represent the new pastoral direction needed to integrate people in fragile circumstances, he said.
Accompanying means having “confidence in the grace at work in peoples’ lives,” keeping in mind both the Christian ideal and the “gradualness” in which people appropriate the truth and live it out, he said, stressing this does not mean “gradualness in the law.”
Discerning in “irregular situations” includes understanding “gradualness” as well as principles of moral theology such as those that look at “mitigating circumstances”; “exceptional cases that arise” because of “the gap between general norms and particular circumstances,” and “the possibility of subjectively living in grace in an objective situation of sin,” he said.
Ouellet said Amoris Laetitia “deserves more attention in itself than merely the public debate” around “disputed points.”
Pope Francis identified Chapters 4 and 5 as the “centre of the document” which Ouellet said, “must be read as a whole” to understand the “limits and extent of the pastoral orientations” that were commented upon often “removed from their context.”
The cardinal outlined the Christocentric and Trinitarian theological approach of the document that starts with the Word of God, and “Jesus’ gaze” on the family.
The approach taken in Amoris Laetitia seems “especially urgent and needed in Canada,” because of gap between the church’s official teaching and the “lived experience of couples and families,” Ouellet said. This gap has widened since Vatican II under the influence of what Saint John Paul II called “the culture of death.”
“We must reread Amoris Laetitia in a spirit of pastoral conversion,” and with “receptivity to papal teaching,” to help cultures that are “far from the faith” to experience the “joy of the Gospel that emerges from faith,” he said.
Ouellet said the document calls for a “conversion in one’s way of seeing” that “affirms the person in their gradual progression.” Without that conversion, “it is impossible to adopt the appropriate pastoral attitude of welcome, listening, dialogue and mercy.”
According to Pope Francis, more is gained in gradually integrating those in the process of conversion than “in maintaining the faithful in an adherence that may be juridically correct but that is often superficial,” Ouellet said.