Pope Francis released his much anticipated document on marriage and the family overnight New Zealand time, following two gatherings of bishops and various lay persons and extensive consultation with Catholics everywhere to discuss the challenges facing families.
The document formally called an Apostolic Exhortation and entitled Amoris Laetitia – the Joy of Love, signals the Pope’s vision for the Church as a family of families and reaffirms the welfare of the family as decisive for the future of every community and society at a time when individuals in personal and family life are receiving less and less support from social structures than in the past.
Cardinal John Dew, Bishops Charles Drennan and two lay people, Sharron Cole and Dr John Kleinsman, who all attended the most recent discussion with the Pope, noted the merciful and pastoral emphasis which does not shy away from the complexities of the difficult situations facing couples and families around the world.
Cardinal John Dew said “I haven’t yet studied the document fully but already I get the sense that what Pope Francis is saying is coming out of a real and very grounded understanding of the difficulties that face families and that the wider Church family is the place where people should find support and accompaniment through these times,”
Cardinal John said that Pope Francis took particular care in talking about those that are divorced and now in new unions – “he appeals to us all that they not be made to feel that they are excluded from the Church family. In particular pastors and those involved in family ministries are reminded of their obligation to exercise careful discernment of situations and to avoid judgements that do not take into account the complexity of different situations as well as people’s differing degrees of responsibility. The emphasis is on showing love and tenderness and working to integrate all people into the Church community no matter what their situation.”
Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North noted that “Pope Francis again appeals to the Church, and in a particular way to bishops and priests, that we be pastors of open hearts not closed minds. Church teaching on marriage and the family is upheld and beautifully expounded through a series of rich scriptural reflections. Then Francis says let’s get this inspiring doctrine off the library shelf and into people’s living rooms because there we discover Church teaching is a service not an imposition, an invitation not a condemnation.It is in the face to face encounter,” Bishop Drennan said, that the “crucial questions of language arises. Francis says that our theological and pastoral language must reach the hearts of young people in such a way that they take up the adventure of marriage.”
Bishop Drennan added, “Pope Francis is clear that marriage is a treasure for all in society including those for whom it will never be possible and also he urges us to value publicly the unique relationship that marriage is so that those who are living together will come to appreciate further the beauty of marriage and stable family life.”
Dr John Kleinsman, Director of the Catholic Bioethics Agency, The Nathaniel Centre, said of the document “Among other things Pope Francis criticises an excessive idealisation in some of the teaching about marriage that, rather than making marriage more desirable and attractive, has had the opposite effect. I am heartened by this level of honesty and by the idea that it’s not enough to simply stress doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues without knowing the actual situation of families and without encouraging openness to grace.” At the same time I believe that the document will become a rich source of reflection for married couples, in particular chapter four which is an extended commentary on the nature of love that is both encouraging as well as challenging.
Mrs Sharron Cole noted “There is much in the document that focuses on the challenge throughout the world of raising children, from conception to adulthood and beyond. Pope Francis emphasises in a number of places that openness to children lies at the heart of authentic conjugal love and decisions about regulating birth must always respect the dignity of the person. Couples must keep a right order of priorities, recognising their own duties towards God, themselves, their families and society. Meanwhile the Church must allow couples to form their own consciences rather than seeking to replace them.”
Mrs Cole added “Pope Francis also makes a plea to divorced parents to ensure their children remain their primary consideration and that they deserve to grow up hearing their mother and father speak well of each other even if they’re no longer married.”
Throughout the document Pope Francis describes the hardships faced by those who leave their homelands in search of safety, security and stability and a better life for their families. He stresses the importance of the welcoming they receive in their adopted countries and the need for the welcoming community to cherish their culture.
Pope Francis also highlights the situation of the elderly in many societies, including the tragic reality of social isolation and the stresses on intergenerational relationships which in many parts of the world leads to many elderly feeling as if they’re a burden to their families and society.
The lengthy document will need to be read, studied and reflected upon in the context of our own local Church and communities and integrated into discernment of developments in Dioceses, parishes, schools and ministries.
The full text is available here and a summary can be found here