Divorced-and-remarried Catholics need the fullness of Church teaching, a wise pastoral and community response to their difficulties that can help them grow in the Christian life, Pope Francis said on Friday in his new document on love in the family.
Pope Francis’ highly anticipated post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the gifts and challenges of family life was published April 8, titled Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love, the document was presented to journalists in Italian, French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Signed March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, the release of the document was delayed in order to allow time for its translation into other languages. The apostolic exhortation is the conclusion of a two-year synod process discussing both the beauty and challenges of family life today. Hosted at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015, these synods brought together hundreds of bishops from around the world.
Topics discussed in the meetings were much broader compared to the western secular media which focused its coverage on homosexuality and the question of communion for the divorced-and-civilly remarried, the synod fathers discussed themes such as domestic violence, incest and abuse within families, and marriage preparation.
The Pope has refrained from making a direct statement on the question of Communion for remarried couples but in a footnote to his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, he has left the question open to debate.
He writes that a person “in an objective situation of sin” – a second union is not named directly – “can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end”.
A footnote adds: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” It does not expand on this statement, which is likely to lead to considerable debate and discussion.
The Pope recognized the attention generated by the synods, saying, “The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.”
The Vatican commentator Fr Mark Drew said: “On the question about which everybody was waiting for a decision, the only concrete answer is a twice repeated reference (although it is slipped into footnotes) to two paragraphs from Evangelii Gaudium in which the Pope had reminded us that priests should not behave like torturers in the confessional, and that Holy Communion ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.
“We must now expect continued, protracted, and perhaps acrimonious debate about how this principle is to be applied in the cases under consideration.”
There had been speculation that the Pope would make an explicit statement for or against Communion for some remarried people.
Amoris Laetitia makes a general call for discernment, saying: “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. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”
The Pope presents the document as “gathering 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”.
Elsewhere, the document demands a more tender style of preaching and speaking about Church doctrine. It calls for a “healthy dose of self-criticism”, adding: “We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life.”
The Pope spoke about sexuality within marriage and on the sometimes devastating effects of poverty and migration on families. He also touched on the importance of communication within the family, the challenges of raising children in a technology-saturated world, and the witness of virginity. Biblical reflections on family were included in the document, as well as discussion of the family as a place of faith, labor, celebration and tears.