Top 10 takeaways from “Amoris Laetitia”

Pope Francis greets newly married couples during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo. Pope Francis greets newly married couples during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo. (CNS PHOTO BY L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO)

Pope Francis’s groundbreaking new document “Amoris Laetitia”(“The Joy of Love”) asks the church to meet people where they are, to consider the complexities of people’s lives and to respect people’s consciences when it comes to moral decisions. The apostolic exhortation is mainly a document that reflects on family life and encourages families. But it is also the pope’s reminder that the church should avoid simply judging people and imposing rules on them without considering their struggles.  

Using insights from the Synod of Bishops on the Family and from bishops’ conferences from around the world, Pope Francis affirms church teaching on family life and marriage, but strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment. He urges the church to appreciate the context of people’s lives when helping them make good decisions.  The goal is to help families—in fact, everyone—experience God’s love and know that they are welcome members of the church. All this may require what the pope calls “new pastoral methods” (199).

Here are ten things to know about the pope’s groundbreaking new document. 

1. The church needs to understand families and individuals in all their complexity. The church needs to meet people where they are. So pastors are to “avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” (296). People should not be “pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for personal and pastoral discernment” (298). In other words, one size does not fit all. People are encouraged to live by the Gospel, but should also be welcomed into a church that appreciates their particular struggles and treats them with mercy. “Thinking that everything is black and white” is to be avoided (305). And the church cannot apply moral laws as if they were “stones to throw at people’s lives” (305). Overall, he calls for an approach of understanding, compassion and accompaniment.

2. The role of conscience is paramount in moral decision making. “Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” (303). That is, the traditional belief that individual conscience is the final arbiter of the moral life has been forgotten here. The church has been “called to form consciences, not to replace them” (37). Yes, it is true, the Pope says, that a conscience needs to be formed by church teaching. But conscience does more than to judge what does or does not agree with church teaching. Conscience can also recognize with “a certain moral security” what God is asking (303). Pastors, therefore, need to help people not simply follow rules, but to practice “discernment,” a word that implies prayerful decision making (304).

3. Divorced and remarried Catholics need to be more fully integrated into the church. How? By looking at the specifics of their situation, by remembering “mitigating factors,” by counseling them in the “internal forum,” (that is, in private conversations between the priest and person or couple), and by respecting that the final decision about the degree of participation in the church is left to a person’s conscience (305, 300). (The reception of Communion is not spelled out here, but that is a traditional aspect of “participation” in church life.) Divorced and remarried couples should be made to feel part of the church. “They are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such, since they remain part” of the church (243). 

4. All members of the family need to be encouraged to live good Christian lives. Much of “Amoris Laetitia” consists of reflections on the Gospels and church teaching on love, the family and children. But it also includes a great deal of practical advice from the pope, sometimes gleaned from exhortations and homilies regarding the family. Pope Francis reminds married couples that a good marriage is a “dynamic process” and that each side has to put up with imperfections. “Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it” (122, 113). The pope, speaking as a pastor, encourages not only married couples, but also engaged couples, expectant mothers, adoptive parents, widows, as well as aunts, uncles and grandparents. He is especially attentive that no one feels unimportant or excluded from God’s love.

5. We should no longer talk about people “living in sin.” In a sentence that reflects a new approach, the pope says clearly, “It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin” (301). Other people in “irregular situations,” or non-traditional families, like single mothers, need to be offered “understanding, comfort and acceptance” (49). When it comes to these people, indeed everyone, the church need to stop applying moral laws, as if they were, in the pope’s vivid phrase, “stones to throw at a person’s life” (305).  

6. What might work in one place may not work in another. The pope is not only speaking in terms of individuals, but geographically as well. “Each country or region…can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs” (3). What makes sense pastorally in one country may even seem out of place in another. For this reason and others, as the pope says at the beginning of the document that for this reason, not every question can be settled by the magisterium, that is, the church’s teaching office (3). 

7. Traditional teachings on marriage are affirmed, but the church should not burden people with unrealistic expectations. Marriage is between one man and one woman and is indissoluble; and same-sex marriage is not considered marriage. The church continues to hold out an invitation to healthy marriages. At the same time, the church has often foisted upon people an “artificial theological ideal of marriage” removed from people’s everyday lives (36). At times these ideals have been a “tremendous burden” (122). To that end, seminarians and priests need to be better trained to understand the complexities of people’s married lives. “Ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families” (202).  

8. Children must be educated in sex and sexuality. In a culture that often commodifies and cheapens sexual expression, children need to understand sex within the “broader framework of an education for love and mutual self-giving” (280). Sadly, the body is often seen as simply “an object to be used” (153). Sex always has to be understood as being open to the gift of new life.

9. Gay men and women should be respected. While same-sex marriage is not permitted, the pope says that he wants to reaffirm “before all else” that the homosexual person needs to be “respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, and ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence.” Families with LGBT members need “respectful pastoral guidance” from the church and its pastors so that gays and lesbians can fully carry out God’s will in their lives (250). 

10. All are welcome. The church must help families of every sort, and people in every state of life, know that, even in their imperfections, they are loved by God and can help others experience that love. Likewise, pastors must work to make people feel welcome in the church. “Amoris Laetitia” offers the vision of a pastoral and merciful church that encourages people to experience the “joy of love.” The family is an absolutely essential part of the church, because after all, the church is a “family of families” (80).

 

Take a deeper look at “Amoris Laetitia.”

William Rydberg
1 year 2 months ago
This document seems to give magisterial "cover" to what competent and pastorally sensitive Pastors have been doing for some time now. More importantly, in my opinion, it frees Associate Pastors, etc... from having to do only "what the Pastor" will "approve" by allowing that Associate Pastor to point to this document. Blessed be the Holy Trinity !
Matt Nannery
1 year 2 months ago
agreed, william. that is one of the major pluses of this document. it allows those who would be kind some cover. we'll see how it affects the actions or priests in dioceses with very conservative bishops such as philly. priests should not have to think twice about being compassionate, but many have in recent years. not a good spot for a priest to be in. i hope this does provide some cover for compassion.
Annette Magjuka
1 year 2 months ago
My biggest concern with the church today is its capricious and sometimes intentionally cruel treatment of LGBT people and families. I am happy that the document includes the piece on NO VIOLENCE (I would assume this means "death to gays" laws are now OUT. Jailing LGBT people is violence. Firing LGBT teachers who marry is a violence, as is any kind of marginalizing, isolating, or rejecting of the person (a child of God). I love the emphasis on conscience. A big part of Catholicism is lifelong conscience formation, something not emphasized enough. We are to love and support. We are to include. We are to become a community, despite disagreements or the perceived sins of others. Judgment is out, love is in. Bless Pope Francis and all of us.
Annette Magjuka
1 year 2 months ago
My biggest concern with the church today is its capricious and sometimes intentionally cruel treatment of LGBT people and families. I am happy that the document includes the piece on NO VIOLENCE (I would assume this means "death to gays" laws are now OUT. Jailing LGBT people is violence. Firing LGBT teachers who marry is a violence, as is any kind of marginalizing, isolating, or rejecting of the person (a child of God). I love the emphasis on conscience. A big part of Catholicism is lifelong conscience formation, something not emphasized enough. We are to love and support. We are to include. We are to become a community, despite disagreements or the perceived sins of others. Judgment is out, love is in. Bless Pope Francis and all of us.
STEVEN PAYNE
1 year 2 months ago
How welcoming is it for a bishop to say he is reaching out to LGBT but also says that term is unacceptable to use, insisting on the term same-sex attraction? Isn't one of the basic signs of respect to use terms people use to identify themselves? I have formed a Catholic AIDS Walk team since 2012. The reaction has consistently been one of nonacceptance. To fulfill point ten, many parishes will have to make a major change in how they relate to groups in the larger society that don't fit the ideal. Sometimes I feel the parish I belong to is more of a country club than a church.
Matt Nannery
1 year 2 months ago
yes, steve. and i've heard priests and seminarians say they feel for "people who suffer from same-sex attraction." this way of talking is not productive. one can't portray oneself as feeling for others while implying that they are "suffering" as if from a disease. i think most of the people i've heard this from were pretty much being disingenuous. it was a way of sounding kind but still judging people.
Bill Mazzella
1 year 2 months ago
Great summary of 'The Love of Joy."
Thomas Piatak
1 year 2 months ago
My conscience tells me that America and Europe should end mass immigration and not accept Moslem immigrants at all. My conscience also tells that even if there is man-made global warming (which I doubt), government efforts to reverse it would be futile, even harmful. I use my car and my air conditioner with no qualms at all. I also think my taxes are too high, and that many of the programs they go to fund are futile, even harmful. I am glad that Pope Francis and Fr. Martin want to meet me where I am and respect the decisions I have made. I am also glad that they will not pass judgment on me or throw Church teaching at me like stones.
Matt Nannery
1 year 2 months ago
I had hoped we would drop the term "unjust discrimination," which is almost exclusively used in the context of LGBT issues. The term implies that discrimination in that context is not necessarily unjust. This is problematic as it gives cover to those who would discriminate. I always shudder when this term is used in official documents or by bishops, and I had hoped Francis would expunge the term of the Catholic lexicon.
David Rudmin
1 year 2 months ago

5. "We should no longer talk about people living in sin...." , WHAT??????????????????????????????????????????????.......................
Ha, ha....Umm, no. First, you misquoted him. His sentence was "it...can no longer SIMPLY be said that ALL those in ANY 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin." Changing his phrase "no longer" to a "not," his statement reduces to "Not all are living in sin...." In other words, 'SOME ARE living in sin,' and SOME AREN'T.....' Especially with the words "all," "any," and "simply," thrown in, ---which latter in philosophical-theological tradition better translates as "completely,"--- it's clear that he's just denying what would be the contradictory (opposite) blanket-condemnation, "All those in irregular situations are living in sin."

James McParland
1 year 2 months ago
" The role of conscience is paramount in moral decision making." ???? I don't think this an accurate interpetation at all! Nowhere does the Pope say personal conscience takes precedence over church moral teaching! Your interpretation is the classic modern liberal attempt to make individual choice or personal preference the highest authority and final word in deciding any moral question. -- I.e., if I decide it's right for me, than no one else has any right to question or criticize my judgment. If I decide to have an abortion, it's the right moral choice for me. If I decide to embezzle a million dollars because I need to send my kids to college, than it's ok for me to do it. This is NOT what the Pope's document says! If this were truly what the pope were teaching, then the Church's moral authority would immediately become nonexistent. Well, maybe that's what the Jesuits want, anyway....?
Bill Mazzella
1 year 2 months ago
James, Paul the Apostle clearly wrote that conscience is first. No serious theologian ever disagreed with this. Except for those who want to control others.
James McParland
1 year 2 months ago
Conscience is of course a moral guide, but ONLY for that individual choosing how to act. Not for other people, and not for the church. Individual conscience can often be wrong. If you think individual conscience always makes the most moral decision and should never be questioned, then all morality is purely subjective and nothing can ever be objectively immoral. If a Hitler says his conscience tells him it's ok to kill all the Jews, who are you to judge? Also, It is really false and unfairly disparaging to say that conservatives merely want to "control others." The point is not control others' behavior, but to engage in a collective and consistent enterprise that helps all individuals live morally. If Pope Francis doesn't want the church to keep clear moral teachings on divorce, homosexuality, abortion, etc. etc., then why not just say that the old teachings were wrong and don't need to be followed any more. That would be far more honest. Unfortunately, it would also be an admission that church teachings are pretty much worthless and irrelevant..
David Rudmin
1 year 2 months ago
Your video above misquoted the pope as saying "It can no longer simply be said that those living in irregular situations are living in a state of mortal sin." No, if you check the original document, it says " it...can no longer simply be said that ALL those in ANY 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin." (See the massive difference in emphasis?...His is a partial denial; but yours is a universal denial....That's just wildly irresponsible)
Richard Murray
1 year 2 months ago
Dear Friends, After having been silent on religion for some months, Ross Douthat at the zionist New York Times has said more subterfuge and nonsense about Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia.” Here’s a critique of Douthat’s article: https://scripturefinds.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/part-ii-ross-douthat-is-a-literary-fukushima/ And here is a downloadable version: https://www.academia.edu/24247902/Ross_Douthat_Is_a_Literary_Fukushima_Part_II
Joe Kash
1 year 2 months ago
Yes we must act based on our conscience now. That does not mean that we are acting perfectly as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We should strive to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Hopefully our parish priest, the bishops and the Church will be there to help each of us, where we are, where our conscience is, to become closer to this perfection in our time. We should all want a perfect conscience as our heavenly Father is perfect. We should all recognize that our conscience is not perfect now but that it is the best that we can do for now. But we are not stuck in the past. With the help of our priests, bishops, the Church in union with the Triune God we can be perfect. This is my hope, my desire and my prayer.
Matthew Dunn
1 year 2 months ago
2. The role of conscience is paramount in moral decision making. “Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” (303). That is, the traditional belief that individual conscience is the final arbiter of the moral life has been forgotten here.
It would be nice if Fr. James would, at least, state Catholic teaching on Conscience accurately: The Church has NEVER taught the sole primacy or final arbitration of Conscience. Freedom of Conscience has never been understood to include the choice of an objectively evil act, e. g. establishing an adulterous union. Start at CCC #1776 and keep reading, Padre!

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