Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) is getting mixed “reviews” in Catholic circles, if social media and other Internet activity is any indication. Officialdom is largely positive, as we would expect. But out there in the wider Catholic world, the situation is complicated. Not that major papal documents require a warm reception for their validity or value.
In any case, here are four main trends I see:
a. Conservative/orthodox reaction: Amoris Laetitia is good, perhaps even great. The Pope upholds tradition. Marriage between a man and a woman. Mutual, exclusive, permanent, indissoluble union. Open to children. No gay marriage. No contraception. No abortion. A beautiful, biblical vision of marriage, mutual love, family. A great reflection on the meaning of love. Says nothing new, really, on the pastoral level, though he’s emphasizing mercy and applying traditional ideas more thoroughly. Isn’t that what Jesus is about? “Conscience” cases handled pastorally, according to the teaching of the Church. Maybe there’s a “development of doctrine” here on doctrine concerning pastoral care. Anyway, an inspiring vision for young people of what marriage and family should be. Fostering inclusion but not at the price of truth, and not promoting truth in a way that unnecessarily excludes. Just as Jesus taught.
b. Liberal/dissenting reaction: Amoris Laetitia is great. The Pope is moving us forward to a reform of doctrine. The Church is going to change on certain issues regarding marriage, but it’s going to take time. What he says on the pastoral level is key. Here there is a revolution, which focuses on the primacy of conscience and mercy over law. What he says about traditional marriage and family can be adapted to other kinds of union. We must speak of this as a “development of doctrine” but it’s really more than this. The Church must become more welcoming of a diversity of expressions of love. Francis is moving us toward this goal, even if hesitantly or unwittingly in some respects. Still, this is what Jesus wants.
a. Conservative/orthodox reaction: Amoris Laetitia is a problem. Maybe a disaster, but at least a problem. Yes, Pope upholds doctrine. Well, duh. That’s his job. On the pastoral level, yes, he is right about the value of mercy. Of course. Who is against mercy? Again, duh. But mercy and morality aren’t at odds. Sure, there is good stuff in this document. But Francis’ fuzzy thinking and muddled expression lead to big problems, which others will exploit to the grave harm of the Church. Many souls will likely be lost. Sometimes you wonder: does he even know what he is doing? The Vicar of Christ should know better. This is not what Jesus wants. He loves souls. He doesn’t want them misled.
b. Liberal/dissenting reaction: Amoris Laetitia is window-dressing. It’s maintaining the homophobic, cis-normal notions of sex and family. Pastorally, it may make life more bearable for some but in the long run it only perpetuates anti-human attitudes toward sexuality. It’s just another form of “control.” We may not want to say this in public, but we know it’s the truth. Jesus didn’t talk or act this way. Not the Jesus of inclusive, open fellowship with all. This document will tend to reinforce the basic unjust structures of male-female unions as normative and thus perpetuate hostility toward LGBT people.
These are trends. They reflect tendencies. They don’t reflect nuances. Someone who is basically a 1a, a conservative/orthodox defender, may share some of the concerns of a 2a, a conservative/orthodox critic. Or someone who is basically a 2a may concede or even happily acknowledge some of the positive statements of a 1a.
The basic stances also share much. The liberal/dissenting critic tends to agree with the conservative/orthodox defender about the claim of little or no substantial change in doctrine. The liberal/dissenting defender agrees with the conservative/orthodox critic that significant change is involved.
· Further reading – Amoris Laetitia: A CWR Symposium