Here we provide a short summary of the Pope’s apostolic exhortation released today
The full 60,000-word text of Amoris Laetitia is available here. But these are five key moments likely to attract attention:
1. A footnote on Communion
On the much-discussed question of Communion for the remarried, the exhortation says nothing direct. Instead, it makes a general statement about those in “irregular” situations (305):
“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”
A footnote (f351) adds:
“In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, ‘I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy’ (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 , 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’”
2. Diminished responsibility
The document addresses the question of how external circumstances may reduce culpability for sin (301). This bears on the question of pastoral discernment in “irregular situations”.
“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. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values’, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers put it, ‘factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”’.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: ‘imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors’.”
3. The authority of the document
The document does not deal in depth with the question of authority, but it does not claim to make authoritative doctrinal statements. It presents itself as a summing-up of the recent Synods, with some “considerations”. As an apostolic exhortation, it has a lower level of authority than an encyclical; the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ claimed that it was “now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching”.
“The various interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem reflecting many legitimate concerns and honest questions. For this reason, I thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.” (4)
4. Reaffirmation of teaching on contraception
As well as condemning abortion, the document contains many references to Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and John Paul II’s writings on contraception (68, 81 82, 151, 155, 283) Perhaps the strongest restatement of Church teaching is this (80):
“Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation ‘by its very nature’. The child who is born ‘does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment’.
“He or she does not appear at the end of a process, but is present from the beginning of love as an essential feature, one that cannot be denied without disfiguring that love itself. From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life.”
5. On same-sex unions
The exhortation briefly summarises the conclusions of the synod, which strongly opposed the redefinition of marriage (250) and repeats the Church’s teaching on showing consideration to gay people (251):
“During the Synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.
“Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”