Will Pope Francis' most recent exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, satisfy everyone or end the debate on the marriage and the family? Probably not. But, as Bishop Robert Barron notes, “it does represent a deft and impressive balancing of the many and often contradictory interventions at the two Synods on the Family.” And it also addresses many of the misrepresentations of the Church’s very wise, often misrepresented and misunderstood, teachings on marriage and the family.
Quoting Bishop Barron:
“Pope Francis wants the truths regarding marriage, sexuality, and family to be unambiguously declared, but he also wants the Church’s ministers to reach out in mercy and compassion to those who struggle to incarnate those truths in their lives.”
“. . . . He (Pope Francis) bemoans any number of threats to this ideal (authentic marriage is between a man and a woman, including moral relativism, a pervasive cultural narcissism, the ideology of self-invention, pornography, the “throwaway” society, etc. . . . He is especially strong in his condemnation of ideologies that dictate that gender is merely a social construct and can be changed or manipulated according to our choice (56). . . . Any doubt regarding the Pope’s attitude toward the permanence of marriage is dispelled as clearly and directly as possible: “The indissolubility of marriage—‘what God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Mt 19:6) —should not be viewed as a ‘yoke’ imposed on humanity, but as a ‘gift’ granted to those who are joined in marriage...” (62).
“However, the Pope also honestly admits that many, many people fall short of the ideal, failing fully to integrate all of the dimensions of what the Church means by matrimony. . . . Accordingly, he recommends two fundamental moves. First, we can recognize, even in irregular or objectively imperfect unions, certain positive elements that participate, as it were, in the fullness of married love. Thus for example, a couple living together without benefit of marriage might be marked by mutual fidelity, deep love, the presence of children, etc. Appealing to these positive marks, the Church might, according to a “law of gradualness,” move that couple toward authentic and fully-integrated matrimony (295). This is not to say that living together is permitted or in accord with the will of God; it is to say that the Church can perhaps find a more winsome way to move people in such a situation to conversion.
The second move—and here we come to what will undoubtedly be the most controverted part of the exhortation—is to employ the Church’s classical distinction between the objective quality of a moral act and the subjective responsibility that the moral agent bears for committing that act (302). The Pope observes that many people in civil marriages following upon a divorce find themselves in a nearly impossible bind. . . .
Pope Francis counsels: “. . . it 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” (301). Could the Church’s minister, therefore, not help such people, in the privacy of the rectory parlor or the confessional, to discern their degree of moral responsibility? Once again, this is not to embrace a breezy “anything-goes” mentality, nor to deny that a civil marriage after a divorce is objectively irregular; it is to find, perhaps, for someone in great pain, a way forward.”
In last month’s Explorations in Faith and Spirituality session video, Rowan Williams, former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, stated that many members of Christian churches “don’t know the depths of their own traditions.” Pope Francis’ recently released exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, among other things, may prove to be a valuable tool for us to get to know the depths of our Church’s traditions about marriage and the family. We, here at St. Michael’s, will be providing opportunities for us to explore this interestingly written, instruction exhortation.