The Amoris Laetitia debate: Why we shouldn’t be afraid of Pope Francis’ exhortation
by Sebastian Gomes
Over the past few weeks a debate has erupted around Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Four cardinals went public with five “dubia,” or questions about what they see as ambiguity and confusion in the papal teaching, especially related to the question of whether or not a divorced and remarried Catholic can receive Communion (a fifth cardinal has since expressed support for the dubia). They asked the Holy Father to respond directly, essentially giving him an ultimatum, whereby a formal act of correction of the Pope would be issued if he failed to comply with their request.
“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” (ibid., 47: 1039).”
“If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that 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.”
#307: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage… A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves. To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown.”
#308: “At the same time… without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear, making room for the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best. I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.
#309: “The Church is commissioned to proclaim the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the mind and heart of every person. The Bride of Christ must pattern her behavior after the Son of God who goes out to everyone without exception. She knows that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of the ninety-nine. He loves them all.”
#310: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness which she shows to believers; nothing in her preaching and her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. It is true that at times we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
#311: The teaching of moral theology should not fail to incorporate these considerations, for although it is quite true that concern must be shown for the integrity of the Church’s moral teaching, special care should always be shown to emphasize and encourage the highest and most central values of the Gospel, particularly the primacy of charity as a response to the completely gratuitous offer of God’s love. At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel.
This article was first published by Salt+Light Media. It has been reproduced here with permission.