Pope Francis has published his considered response to the recent Synods on Family Life in his Pastoral Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)
It is significant that it is being published during the Year of Divine Mercy because the Pope is determined to build a bridge between her traditional support for marriage as part of God’s plan for human happiness; and the complicated reality of everyday lives and relationships.
So, he repeatedly asks the church's pastors to shift away from models of teaching focused on repetition of doctrine in favour of compassion and understanding for peoples' struggles, and how God may be calling to them in the depths of their own consciences (where ‘each one is alone with God, whose voice echoes in the depths of the heart,’.)
The teaching of doctrine has to take full account of "The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes."
So we need to adopt a fully open hearted approach to concrete situations because: “I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, 'always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.'”
The Pope also discusses many of the vexed issues that emerged at the Synod and in the consultation with the laity. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that he understands the concerns of those who are impatient with the Church’s response. The fact that he is repeatedly urging the bishops and clergy in particular, to adopt a nuanced even bespoke pastoral response to the real dilemmas of individuals and their families is highly reassuring.
The whole document runs to over 250 pages and will take a long time to read and digest. You can access a PDF copy below or by go direct to the Vatican’s own website.
One week into the first session the of the Synod its opening discussions have included the proposal by at least some of the participants, that Church teaching on many important issues would benefit from paying much closer attention to the lived experience of ordinary people. A Canadian bishop said they were "finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source -- what we call a theological source, a place of theological reflection."
Archbishop Nicholls reported another interesting suggestion that we might begin to appreciate that people move gradually towards living out fully the kind of moral vision and action proposed by our doctrines. One practical application of this be to have a more tolerant attitude towards those who live together before marriage.
There seems to be some recognition of the need to avoid language that belittles or condemns the moral complexities and dilemmas faced by real people; language like ‘living in sin’, “contraceptive mentality," and "intrinsically disordered" may perhaps be consigned to the historical dustbin. Father Tom Rosica who is relaying some of the discussions to the media commented that “the bishops have come to understand that to label people does not help in bringing them to Christ."
Another encouraging suggestion is to reform the process of annulments to make the procedures less daunting or complicated and enhance the role of the local bishop in reaching fair and reasonable judgements based on the individual circumstances of those whose marriages have broken down.
Encouraging and interesting as these early signs are, history as well as the standing orders for Synod discussions teach us that the outcomes could be otherwise. Nevertheless, there is good cause to continue our prayers that those taking part in these important discussions will heed the advice of Pope Francis to speak boldly and listen humbly to one another. We can also hope that the collective wisdom of those who are gathered from across the globe will take careful note of real lives and the example of Pope Francis in his own dealings with the ordinary concerns of people and his passion for mercy over judgement and the welfare of the poor.
A working document has been produced at the end of the first week to be discussed in smaller groups before a concluding paper after the Synod has completed this first two week session. You can see the working document at
Pope Francis has begun a consultation in preparation for a Synod to be held in Rome in the Autumn of 2014. Significantly he requested that the Bishops should prepare by seeking the views of ordinary parishioners. A detailed questionnaire was made available and members of the parish were encouraged to complete this on line. Aware that this was a very demanding task we also issued a simpler tick box questionnaire which was completed by 41 parishioners.
Forty one responses were submitted and without the benefit of fine tuned analysis it is still reasonable to comment that they show that there is broad support for the basics of marriage along with real concern for the divorced and separated and the importance of couples being respected in determining issues related to the size of their family.
Not surprisingly there is a more mixed response to questions surrounding the appropriate response to same sex couples. What is clear however, is that people do make a distinction between civil partnerships and ‘marriage’ in such circumstances and a majority are sympathetic to the needs of all people for intimacy.
You can see the compiled responses by opening the file below
We pray that this may be a time of renewed grace in family life and of compassionate and inclusive discernment by all members of the church.
The approach of the Synod has encouraged many people to speculate about , imagine and also advocate the kinds of developments that call for discernment by the Synod members. Here are links to some contributions:
Pope Francis writes to families asking for their prayers ahead of October Synod 26 February 2014 http://www.thetablet.co.uk/texts-speeches-homilies/4/296/1/pope-francis-writes-to-families-asking-for-their-prayers-ahead-of-october-synod
Pope Francis asked Cardinal Walter Kasper to address the cardinals. He is to publish a book based on his thinking: http://www.news.va/en/news/cardinal-walter-kaspers-gospel-of-the-family
Marriage and the family – what do Catholics around the world think? Read the few survey results that have been published 21 February 2014 http://www.thetablet.co.uk/texts-speeches-homilies/4/283/1/marriage-and-the-family-what-do-catholics-around-the-world-think-read-the-few-survey-results-that-have-been-published-
The challenge of divorce and remarriage needs a wise, pastoral church By PEG EKERDT
How might the Church 'make space' for marriages that break down? http://www.thetablet.co.uk/blogs/1/372/how-might-the-church-make-space-for-marriages-that-break-down-