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The Joy of Love Amoris Laetitia – Pope Francis

April 15, 2016

TJOL 2This long awaited document is very long and full of platitudes. Papal style has changed but the teaching hasn’t.

According to Paul Vallely, Pope Francis has shown himself to be the first true Vatican II pontiff.. As primus inter pares, he does not judge (or fudge), but rather is content to nudge. And it quotes, collegially, the synods over 200 times.

Commenting on it, Pope Francis called for greater compassion towards “imperfect” Catholics, such as those who divorce and remarry.

Saying that “no one can be condemned forever”, he appeared to suggest that divorcees should be treated on a case-by-case basis rather than completely ruled out of belonging to the Church.

While Francis did not say explicitly that people who were divorced could be re-integrated within the Church, he rejected the idea of a “general set of rules” across the board.

“Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.”

While he said gay people should be respected, he firmly re-stated the Church’s position that there are “absolutely no grounds” to equate gay unions to heterosexual marriage. However, ‘Regarding families with members with homosexual tendencies, it reaffirms the necessity to respect them and to refrain from any unjust discrimination and every form of aggression or violence.’ However, any ‘practicing’ gays are in a state of mortal sin and hell-bound, according to the traditional teaching that hasn’t changed. Or is this overturned by the statement: ‘It should no longer be said that those in ‘irregular’ situations are in a state of mortal sin? If so, this should be shouted from the rooftops since many have been hurt and alienated – even damaged – by the traditional condemnation. (Mind you, one translation is more nuanced: Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.)

The document disappointed the human-rights activist Peter Tatchell. “The Pope promised reform but has reconfirmed traditional Catholic doctrine on same-sex relationships. “Gentler words do not assuage Vatican opposition to gay equality. . . The harsh, homophobic Catholic catechism remains in force.”

On the topic of heterosexual marriage, the Pope did, however, part with his stricter predecessors by saying the Church needed a “healthy dose of self-criticism” for in the past preaching that procreation was the “almost exclusive” reason for marriage.

Rather, he praised the “erotic dimension” of marriage.

Marriage preparation, which involves psychological as well as doctrinal elements, is much to be welcomed.

Father James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College, said while Francis did not explicitly give a green light for remarried Catholics to return to communion, “the dots are pretty close together, you can connect them reasonably easily and conclude that he is saying this is a possibility.

“If he’s not opening the door, he is at least showing you where the key under the mat is.”

But not for the moment are remarried divorcees allowed communion.

His argument is that it is possible for a person caught in an irregular situation to be nevertheless in a state of grace in which he or she “can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while re­ceiving the Church’s help to this end”.

In a footnote, Pope Francis adds that such help could include re­course to the sacraments of confes­sion and also the eucharist, which he describes as “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”.

Decisions are to be devolved to a local level – if only the Anglican Communion could do that too. (In his address at the end of the 2015 Synod, the Pope said very clearly: “What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”)

Priests have to exercise discernment in each case. “For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must neces­sarily be present: humility, dis­cretion, and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it.

“These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of mis­understandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant exceptions, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours.”

The RC catechism teaches that people who marry a second time while a former spouse is still alive are committing adultery. But Pop Francis indicates in Amoris Laetitia that, since “the degree of respons­ibility is not equal in all cases, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same”.

The consciences of the couple, informed by the teachings of th Church and advice of their priest, would play a decisive part in a decisions reached on closer union, the Pope suggests.

The wide-ranging document ex­plicitly upholds Roman Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, and there is no change on the subjects abortion, contracep­tion, and pornography. It also con­demns the exploitation and abuse of women and children, domestic violence, and female genital mutila­tion. It criticises inappropriate sex education aimed at children.

Pope Francis laments a shift in the balance in some families. “A reversal of the roles of parents and children is unhealthy, since it hinders the proper process of devel­opment that children need to ex­perience, and it denies them the love and guidance needed to mat­ure,” he writes.

“In Western culture, the father figure is said to be symbolically absent, missing, or vanished. Man­hood itself seems to be called into question,” he says.

“In our day, the problem no longer seems to be the overbearing presence of the father so much as his absence, his not being there.”

Francis said he understood those conservatives who “prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion” but the Church should be more attentive to the good that can be found “in the midst of human weakness”.

It makes no mention of the “unlawful birth control methods” rejected in Humanae Vitae. Instead he focused on the need for couples in their conscience to make decisions about their family size.

 It says that no same-sex union can be a marriage. That’s because, as the document explains, “No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.” But if you’re straight and infertile, the rule about transmitting life doesn’t apply. Your marriage is just as valid as anyone else’s, according to the document, since “procreation and adoption are not the only ways of experiencing the fruitfulness of love.”  This is a double standard, between homosexuality and other forms of infertility.

 “It is unacceptable ‘that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.”


“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” says the document, quoting these prelates. That’s because, “according to the order of creation, conjugal love between a man and a woman, and the transmission of life are ordered to each other.”

Some couples are unable to have children. We know that this can be a cause of real suffering for them. At the same time, we know that “marriage was not instituted solely for the procreation of children” … Even in cases where, despite the intense desire of the spouses, there are no children, marriage still retains its character of being a whole manner and communion of life, and preserves its value and indissolubility.” So too, “motherhood is not a solely biological reality, but is expressed in diverse ways.”

“We also do well to remember that procreation and adoption are not the only ways of experiencing the fruitfulness of love.” Another kind of marital fruitfulness, it points out, is building and sustaining the world: “Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. In this way, they become a hub for integrating persons into society. … Married couples should have a clear awareness of their social obligations.”

TJOY 3A healthy sexual desire, albeit closely joined to a pursuit of pleasure, always involves a sense of wonder, and for that very reason can humanize the impulses. In no way, then, can we consider the erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the good of the family. Rather, it must be seen as gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses. As a passion sublimated by a love respectful of the dignity of the other, it becomes a “pure, unadulterated affirmation.

‘We need to be humble and realistic,acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people, have helped contribute to today’s problematic situation. At time we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological idea of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.

the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

“…where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words. It is an encounter with a face, a ‘thou’, who reflect God’s own love and is man’s ‘best possession, a helper fit for him and a pillar of support’, in the words of the biblical sage (Sir 36:24).”

TJOL 4 “The incarnation of the Word in a human family, in Nazareth, by its very newness changed the history of the world.”

“The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since ‘their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church. The married couple are therefore a permanent reminder for the Church of what took place on the cross; they are for one another and for their children witnesses of the salvation in which they share through the sacrament.’”

TJOL 5 “The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches.”

“Each child has a place in God’s heart from all eternity; once he or she is conceived, the Creator’s eternal dream comes true.”

“For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all.”

“Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. In this way, they become a hub for integrating persons into society and a point of contact between the public and private spheres.”

TJOL 6 “Hope is the leaven that, in those first years of engagement and marriage, makes it possible to look beyond arguments, conflicts and problems and to see things in a broader perspective. It harnesses our uncertainties and concerns so that growth can take place. Hope also bids us live fully in the present, giving our all to the life of the family, for the best way to prepare a solid future is to live well in the present.”

“The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures. In that variety of gifts and encounters which deepen communion, God has his dwelling place.”

“The space which each of the spouses makes exclusively for their personal relationship with God not only helps heal the hurts of life in common, but also enables the spouses to find in the love of God the deepest source of meaning in their own lives.”

“I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfil their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.”

“Just as a good wine begins to ‘breathe’ with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and ‘body’.”

TJOL 7“The life of every family is marked by all kinds of crises, yet these are also part of its dramatic beauty. Couples should be helped to realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken their relationship; instead, it can improve, settle and mature the wine of their union.”

“I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street’.”

“We have been called to form consciences, not replace them.”

“Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort.”

“I think, for example, of the speed with which people move from one affective relationship to another. They believe, along the lines of social networks, that love can be connected or disconnected at a whim of the consumer, and the relationship quickly ‘blocked’… We treat affective relationships the way we treat material objects and the environment: everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop. Then, goodbye.”


“Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope.”

“Here let me say a word to fiancés. Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances. What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else.”

“Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary.”

‘there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’.

“No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel.”

“The Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner,” he said, including in this category those Catholics who are cohabiting, married civilly or are divorced and remarried.

“It can no longer simply be said that all those in any irregular situations are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace,”  Even those in an “objective situation of sin” can be in a state of grace, and can even be more pleasing to God by trying to improve.

“Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.”

“There is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign entails ‘a dynamic process…, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God’”

“mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures”

Longer life spans now mean that close and exclusive relationships must last for four, five or even six decades; consequently, the initial decision has to be frequently renewed…..There is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all through life.Yet if a couple can come up with a shared and lasting life project, they can love one another and live as one until death do them part, enjoying an enriching intimacy”.

ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families

“each crisis has a lesson to teach us; we need to learn how to listen for it with the ear of the heart”

“Divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces is very troubling. Hence, our most important pastoral task with regard to families is to strengthen their love, helping to heal wounds and working to prevent the spread of this drama of our times”

“obsession, however, is not education. We cannot control every situation that a child may experience…If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges. What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy”

“Yes to sex education….if our educational institutions have taken up this challenge … in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished”. Sound education needs to be carried out “within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving” ……‘safe sex’ conveys “a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance”

“some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way”. The Church therefore “does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage” (AL 292).

“There is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and ‘to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition’” ….“It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community, and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy”…..“The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment”.

“If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations, … it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable toall cases.What is needed is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same”

“It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule”.

“No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love …All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. … May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us”

The full text is online here

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