Blog Post

Understanding the Pope’s New Apostolic Exhortation

family sunsetCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Even though some of the passages in the Pope’s new exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), are somewhat unclear and area already being distorted by the mainstream media, Catholics should read the document for themselves with the understanding that no Church teaching has been changed.

Reporting for EWTN News, Andrea Gagliarducci interviewed Fr. Jose Granados, a synod consultor and vice president of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family who said that if there are doubts or lack of clarity in certain paragraphs of the exhortation, the correct interpretation is always in accord with the constant teaching of the Church.

“Pope Francis has repeatedly said that he did not want to change any doctrinal item, and this must be the key through which we interpret the document,” Father Granados said.

The long-awaited exhortation, which was released on April 8, is the result of two synods on the family and once again affirms that stable families are the building blocks of a healthy society and the place where children learn to love, respect and interact with others. The pope makes numerous references to the indissoluble nature of marriage and also restates Church teaching on marriage as being a union of a man and a woman.

"There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life," the pope writes.

bride groom altarHowever, he does acknowledge multiple lifestyles which result in difficult moral judgments and cautions the faithful not to think that everything is necessarily black and white.

This led him to emphasize the importance of the role of conscience in making moral judgments rather than just relying on the law, which led many in the mainstream media to assume that the Church was moving away from the Magisterium and now allowing people to choose for themselves.

However, this is an incorrect interpretation of what the pope said.

“There is a reference to conscience, but conscience is always meant to be rightly formed. There is never an opposition between conscience and moral law,” Fr. Granados stated.

The document repeatedly called upon the faithful to care for, rather than condemn, those whose lives do not reflect the teaching of the Church.

“There is a need ‘to avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations and to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition’,” the pope writes. “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community, and thus to experience being touched by an unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy.”

He used as an example the divorced who have remarried and “find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.”

This means that although the Church is not changing any of the rules regarding the divorced and civilly remarried, we are being called to make them feel more welcome in the body of Christ.

“The baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal,” he writes. ““Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services… Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church… This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children.”

The exhortation also rejects abortion, gender ideology and euthanasia.

“The pope has given us a love letter to families—a love letter inviting all of us, and especially married couples and families, to never stop growing in love,” writes Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It is also a love letter calling the Church, the family of God, to realize more and more her mission to live and love as a family.”

During Mass this Sunday in my parish, the priest encouraged everyone to read the document for themselves and not to rely on what the media is reporting.

Click here to read the document in full.

Click here to read a synopsis.

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