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Why Non-Catholics Should Care About What the Pope Says

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Non-Catholics may be wondering why Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Latin, “The Joy of Love”) has Catholics in an uproar. Has the pope changed Catholic doctrine? Has he left the doctrine officially intact, but changed pastoral practice so much that the doctrine is annulled? Now that I have taken the weekend to read it, I am convinced that Amoris Laetitia is a gift to the Church and the world.

What the Catholic Church does is important to everyone, no matter their faith. The Catholic Church is the largest institution still standing against the ideological fraud known as the sexual revolution. Everyone who is trying to deal with the fallout from this massive social upheaval has a stake in what the Catholic Church says and does. If Pope Francis were to change Catholic teaching, the purveyors of the revolution would be dancing in the streets.

And meaning no disrespect but speaking bluntly: if the revolutionaries take down the Catholic Church, they will squash the rest of you like bugs.

So let me assure you: there is no change in official Catholic doctrine in Amoris Laetitia.

As for pastoral practice, Pope Francis is encouraging pastors to treat the lost, the wounded, the confused with as much sensitivity as possible. He intends it as an open invitation to the millions of souls who have been harmed by sexual sin, whether Catholic or not, to come home to the Catholic Church and draw closer to Jesus.

The prodigal daughter

I can relate to the need for something like this document. Let me share a bit of Catholic “inside baseball.” I am what we call a “revert.” I was raised Catholic but left the Church for a period of time and came back. So I can’t be called a “convert” nor a “cradle Catholic.”

When I returned the Church after my prodigal period, my canonical situation was pretty simple. (By “canonical,” I mean what canon, or church, law would say about my situation. More inside baseball.) I was on a second marriage.

But I had a whole pile of sexual sins. Like the prodigal son, by the time I finally came to my senses, I was desperate. I confessed having an abortion to Fr. Bob Cilinski, the chaplain of the campus ministry program at George Mason University at that time. (By the way, priests are not permitted to reveal what we say to them in confession, but we can say anything we want about it! Let me say how grateful I am to Fr. Bob and all the other confessors I’ve had.)

Fr. Bob was the first person who understood why I was upset about having an abortion. I had spoken to numerous therapists, and not one of them even considered the possibility that my emotional distress was related to abortion.

The pastoral care of a priest

During that first confession in twelve years, Fr. Bob did not go down a checklist of possible sins. “Now, I cannot give you absolution unless you are sorry for all these sins.” I shudder to think what would have happened if he had. I would have freaked out and run out of there, more upset than before. And I certainly was in no position to have a theological discussion about each and every aspect of Church teaching.

He didn’t ask. He gave me absolution for the big sin I came to confess.

He did tell me I should come to Mass but not receive Communion. He helped me seek an annulment. But I could not go to Communion unless and until I received a declaration of nullity. (A declaration of nullity is an official finding by a Church tribunal that my first attempted marriage had never been a valid marriage.)

In other words, he did not move the goalposts to make it easier and more “pastoral” for me. He stood by the Church’s teaching in every particular way, and he set me on the path to a closer encounter with Jesus. Along that path, I eventually came to see that the Church was correct about premarital sex, cohabitation, and contraception as well. I confessed those sins too, in due course.

By the way, this confession took place in 1988, during the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II. According to the sexual revolutionaries, those were the dark days of doctrinal rigidity and all-around Catholic meanness. The fact is, Catholic priests have been quietly accompanying people in a pastoral manner for quite some time. Priests know better than anyone the wreckage left in the wake of the sexual revolution. Even the ones who don’t preach about it as much as I would like are still guiding people toward Jesus.

While I do wish Pope Francis had been more clear on some points, I consider Amoris Laetitia a gift to the Church and the world. No matter your faith tradition, I urge you to read the document. Start with chapters 4 and 5.

You will find Pope Francis to be like a wise grandfather or great-uncle sitting across the kitchen table. You can imagine him sharing a cup of coffee or bouncing a baby on his knees. He invites all of us to love one another and teaches us how. That is gift enough.


This article first appeared April 11 at The Blaze.

Written by Jennifer Roback Morse


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    So, Jennifer, what happened to the soul of the unborn child you aborted? The RCC says you are allowed to “hope” that God is not a monster who sent it to Hell or Limbo, but the hope is very slim. How could you worship a god who denied salvation to your completely innocent and helpless unborn child? What if the child had been miscarried and you really wanted it – it still wouldn’t have been baptized, so it would go to Hell or Limbo, and you would never be able to see it. Well, maybe you could see it if you went to Hell too. I’m not sure about that.
    If, on the other hand, God isn’t a monster, and that soul went to heaven, then what harm did you do to it by having an abortion? After all, we’re all trying to get to heaven, so you just gave it a shortcut, if God allowed it in. It didn’t have to take the chance of believing the wrong thing, being born to the wrong parents in the wrong religion in the wrong country, or god-forbid, becoming an atheist or agnostic – gasp! Horrors! If God let it into heaven, it went from the starting line to the winner’s circle, and never had to worry about Hell like we do, so what’s the problem?
    If your “hope” is honored and Catholic God is not a monster who denies innocent souls if such exist, into heaven if that exists, that would mean that He has the ability to forgive original sin without all the rigamarole that is normally attached to that process – impregnating a “young woman” (the word virgin was a mistranslation) without her consent in order to be born as Himself so that He could sacrifice Himself to Himself in order to relieve us from a condition He imposed on us in the first place – but only if we believe, say and do the right things. If God could allow that aborted soul into heaven without having the mandatory baptism, then He could forgive any of us if He wanted to, belief or no belief, right? It puts the RCC in a tough position. If God can let aborted or miscarried souls into heaven then He can forgive original sin without all the rigamarole the RCC wants to put you through, and if He doesn’t let those souls in, then He’s certainly not “good” as we understand that word, and is therefore unworthy of worship – though why an all-powerful being needs worship in the first place is something I can’t understand.

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