An appreciation of the
“Amoris Laetitia” – Joy of Love – the new encyclical of Pope Francis on family.
Kuruvila Pandikatt SJ
Professor of Science, Religion and
Philosophy Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune
In a prophetic proclamation on family life, Pope Francis on Friday, 8 April, 2016 called on the Roman Catholic Church to be more welcoming and less judgmental. He signaled a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
The 256-page apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” – Latin for “The Joy of Love” – calls for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.
“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” he writes. His pastoral attitude seen all through the exhortation is in contrast with the one taken by “those who would indoctrinate [the Gospel] in dead stones to be hurled at others.” He repeats that “dogmatic questions [remain] clearly defined by the church’s magisterium.” Pope Francis closes the door on same-sex marriage, saying it cannot be seen as the equivalent of heterosexual unions.
The document offers no new rules or marching orders. In fact, from the outset Francis makes it clear that no top-down edicts are coming. “Neither the synod nor this exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases,” he adds in the eighth chapter. This is the most sensitive chapter of this document, which deals with the Catholic Church’s attitude towards people who have divorced and civilly remarried. “What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”
“Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium,” he cautions at the very beginning of the document. Alluding to the diversity and complexity of a global church, Francis effectively pushes decision making downward to bishops and priests, stating that a different country or region “can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.”
But Francis also makes clear the vision he wants local bishops and priests to follow: that of a welcoming Church that greets families with empathy and comfort, rather than with unbending rules and rigid codes of conduct.
The New York Times says that the scope of “Amoris Laetitia” is typical of Francis: a broad-ranging blend of “biblical passages, meditations on marital love, homespun advice on familial manners, passages bemoaning the frenetic loneliness of modern life and a call for families to come closer to the Church, and vice versa.”
In the apostolic exhortation, the Pope admits that the Church has made mistakes in alienating families and dedicates many passages to describing the pressures brought on families by poverty, migration, abuse and violence.
Just as he used his environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” to call on national governments to enact legislations to fight climate change, Francis now calls on governments to provide support for families in the form of health care, education and employment. He describes families as under siege by the pressures of modern life,” reports The New York Times.
“In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal,” Francis wrote. He described “severe stress “on families “who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.” “This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances and the future of children,” he added.
Francis adopts the solution introduced by the German-speaking bishops at the second synod: inviting divorced and remarried Catholics who have not had their first marriages annulled to seek the counsel of a priest. The priest, in private and personal conversations known as the “internal form,” could help them to examine their conscience and determine their future participation in church life.
“Amoris Laetitia” is a quietly revolutionary document,” claims James Martin SJ, the Editor of the Catholic magazine “America.” It restores the role of personal conscience and reminds pastors to meet people where they are. It will be a great encouragement especially to divorced and remarried Catholics and anyone who feels they have been unwelcome in the church. The message is: Welcome.”
At the Vatican news conference unveiling the document, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria said that Francis was trying to erase the distinction between “regular” and “irregular” families, even as he continued to advocate the Christian ideal of marriage.
Pope Francis’s Church continues its march toward a “de-ideologization” of its role as educator, towards an increased level of inclusiveness, towards an expression of mercy based on the example set by Jesus with the Samaritan Woman. It remains to be seen what kind of reception the world will give to “Amoris Laetitia.” “We’ve never seen a post-Synodic exhortation like this one, and we’ve never had a true Synod like the one set forth from 2014 to 2015,” writes Massimo Faggioli, Professor of Church history in ‘The Huffington Post.’
Truly, “Amoris Laetitia” is a clarion call for an inclusive Church, where unqualified mercy welcomes the genuine joy of unconditional love.