In a sweeping examination of the church’s view on family issues, the Pope urges welcoming gay people, but also rejects same-sex marriage, abortion and contraceptives.
Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Philip Chidell
Pope Francis released his revolutionary post-synodal apostolic exhortation on family life early Friday, asking the Catholic Church to be merciful and allow divorced Catholics to take Holy Communion. Same-sex couples were shunned from marriage, saying it cannot be seen as the equivalent of heterosexual unions.
A culmination of three years of work by the Pope, the long-awaited “Amoris Laetitia” (Latin for “The Joy of Love”) reflects insights from the Synod of Bishops on the Familly, a high-level church meeting at the Vatican that took place in the fall of last year and which considered “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.”
The 256-page document urges his subordinates to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together. “A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” he writes.
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” the Pope said. “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”
Adopting a more tolerant and inclusive stance regarding homosexuality, Francis writes: “Every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”
His note regarding violence is particulary important, as it signals that the church should oppose the persecution and criminalization of LGBT people, which is a troubling issue in Uganda, for example.
Still, while Francis has been hailed as a pragmatic, bold reformer, he made repeated references to Christian marriage as a “union between a man and a woman,” restating, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
The apostolic exhortation also strongly rejects state intervention for contraception, sterilization and abortion. “So great is the value of human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life,” writes Francis, calling on governments to “help facilitate the adoption process, above all in the case of unwanted children, in order to prevent their abortion or abandonment.”
Importantly, Francis urges priests and bishops to use their own judgment in considering the unique circumstances of each individual under their guidance—a clear indication that the Pope favors a church that does not view doctrine as too rigid.
“Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium,” Francis writes. “Each country or region … can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.”
“The document says change should not come from doctrine, that there is a need for decisions to be based on what the document calls ‘concrete situations,’ or ‘real-life situations’,” said Gian Guido Vecchi, a veteran Vatican expert with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
But the “real-life situations” of women are give short shrift in the exhortation. Writing in the Daily Beast, Barbie Latza Nadeau criticizes Francis’ “annoying blind spot when it comes to women”:
Denial of differences between the sexes is described as “ideological.” But who claims that there are no differences? Rather, women are struggling to do away with unequal opportunities that exploit difference as an excuse to, for instance, pay women less than men, or for that matter, to exclude them from the priesthood.
Starting with a section called “You and Your Wife,” which is not followed by one called “You and Your Husband,” Francis struggles with the complicated role of women in the modern family, and in fact his document leaves no room for what most of us understand by equality of the sexes. Nor does it quote any women on the matter.
It is by no means perfect, but “Amoris Laetitia” does reveal a Pope who is quite unlike any previous; one who is willing to challenge church orthodoxy and modernize the institution so that it can better respond to the times. While the document has its flaws—and the church has a long way to go before it is truly a champion of progressive thought—it is a step in the right direction.
This is Francis’ second apostolic exhortation. The first,“Evangelii Gaudium,” or “The Joy of the Gospel,” was released in 2013,and similarly proclaims that the church must be open and humble to people’s real needs, and not too strictly fixed on doctrine.
Read “Amoris Laetitia.”