Bishops are considering forming a pastoral plan on marriage and family life in response to “Amoris Laetitia,” the pope’s 2016 pastoral letter about families, though the plan would not be ready until November 2019. Later in the day, bishops announced the proposal had passed with an overwhelming majority.
Bishop Richard Malone, who sits on the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, told bishops that the plan would “encourage a broader reading of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and seek to advance more conversation” around “strengthening marriage and family life.” It would offer a framework for parishes and dioceses to create and implement pastoral plans.
In the letter, Pope Francis calls on pastors to accompany married couples and families through challenges they encounter in life. In one chapter, he speaks about the need to provide pastoral care to Catholics living in irregular family situations and he includes a section that some bishops have interpreted to mean that some divorced and remarried Catholics could be admitted to Communion after a period of prayer and penance. The pope has signaled that this is the correct interpretation, leading to criticism from some corners of the church.
Bishop Richard Malone told bishops that the plan would “encourage a broader reading of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and seek to advance more conversation” around “strengthening marriage and family life.”
During the discussion about the proposed pastoral plan, which came as bishops are gathered in Baltimore for their fall meeting, some bishops lamented that much of the focus had been on the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and urged any pastoral plan to take a more comprehensive approach
Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with a large social media presence, called ‘Amoris Laetitia’ an “extraordinarily rich document” and he said it was “a tragedy that the reception to this document in our country has been so poor.” He said “an awful lot of people in the blogosphere” are “forcing people to read this document in a particular way” and that bishops should “seize control” of the narrative.
Bishop Joseph Strickland, head of the Diocese of Tyler, Tex., agreed, blaming “media distortions” for focusing attention on the divorce question. He said it is “essential to make a clear statement on the issue of marriage and family.”
Bishop Joseph Strickland blamed “media distortions” for focusing attention on the divorce question.
Other bishops, including Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, said the pastoral plan should include a reflection on “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 papal encyclical that prohibits the use of artificial contraception. Another, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., cited a pastoral meeting with a couple whose daughter planned to marry another woman as evidence that “we live in a culture where basically marriage today is whatever people want it to be.”
This is the first attempt by U.S. bishops as a body to implement the teachings in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ on a large scale. Other efforts have been confined to individual dioceses, though last month at Boston College, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and James Keenan, S.J.,co-hosted a conference with bishops, priests and lay theologians about how to further promote the letter.
Many bishops who spoke in support of developing a pastoral plan based on ‘Amoris Laetitia’ said the document should address the needs of young people, who are marrying at record low rates in the United States.
Bishop Jaime Soto, who leads the Diocese of Sacramento, highlighted the role economic inequality plays in decisions about marriage.
The “growing economic disparities in this country [are] also leading to marriage disparities in this country,” he said, with the “well to do” getting married with the benefit of “maintaining their social position” while the poor “feel they don’t have the means to make a life-long commitment.” He said the result is that economic poverty is joined by moral poverty.
This story includes updates.