Bishops React: ‘Not Reform of the Rules, Reform of the Church’

Commenting on the apostolic exhortation during a press discussion a few hours after its formal release on April 8, Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said, “Amoris Laetitia” was focused on “reaching people not in the abstract, but in the concrete realities of their lives.”

Bishop Malone described as “a critical question” the impact the new document might have on returning divorced and remarried Catholics—and others in what the church has called “irregular” situations—to the sacramental life of the church. He said, “The pope does not avoid or sidetrack the tough issues, so what we have to commit to with this call from the Holy Father is a much more intentional journey as church as we walk with our people through all of the joys and hopes and also all of the sadness and difficulties of marriage and family life; that’s where we are going to have to examine our consciences, examine our programs, look at everything—over time—illuminated by the Holy Father’s teaching.”

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Bishop Malone was joined by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said that “Amoris Laetitia” asks the church to avoid the tendency “to fit people into categories” and urges it “to see people as unique” and to cease “throwing stones.” Pope Francis, he added, “is not changing the rules; he is giving us a mind-set in which we see the person first.”

The two U.S.C.C.B. leaders were accompanied by Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University and a regular columnist for America. She commented, “This document is a promise that the church will be dramatically active in the arena of the family and given how the state is really stepping back from the support that marriage needs and that marriage and children together need, I think this is a fabulous development.”

At a press conference that day in Chicago, Archbishop Blase Cupich emphasized that the exhortation was “not about reform of rules of the church—it’s about reform of the church…. It’s about having a very radical change in the approach we have to people living everyday lives” and discerning new opportunities for “accompanying them.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., of Philadelphia seemed generally positive about the exhortation. “While it changes no church teaching or discipline, it does stress the importance of pastoral sensitivity in dealing with the difficult situations many married couples today face,” Archbishop Chaput said.

“Happily, the kind of pastoral discernment called for in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is already happening in many of our parish communities,” he said. Archbishop Chaput joined Pope Francis himself, and many bishops around the world commenting on the exhortation today, in urging that the entire, lengthy document—more than 250 pages—be read “with patience and attention.” 

“This is sound guidance,” said the archbishop, “especially in the scramble that always takes place to stamp a particular interpretation on important papal interventions.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an independent Catholic outreach organization to L.G.B.T. Catholics, was less enthusiastic about the new document, noting that “The Joy of Love” will not likely “inspire joy in L.G.B.T. Catholics.”

“As far as sexual orientation and gender identity issues are concerned, the pope’s latest apostolic exhortation reiterates church formulas which show that the Vatican has yet to learn from the experiences and faith lives of so many L.G.B.T. church members or their supporters,” he said.

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William Bagley
1 year 10 months ago
Archbishop Chaput's insistence that AL "changes no church teaching or discipline" merits some reflection. Indeed, one suspects that the Archbishop protests too much. His advice that AL should be read with "patience and attention" might as easily be read as: we won't let this get out of hand. Catholics in pews, rather than Catholics in the cloister, know that more is required than "patience and attention." Wouldn't it have been nice if he said, instead: this is wonderful news -- we shall not leave one of our brothers or sisters behind.

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