Part 2: Reactions to pope's reflection on family life

Copies of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), are seen during the document's release at the Vatican April 8. (CNS/Paul Haring)
This article appears in the Amoris Laetitia feature series. View the full series.

Over the weekend, many church experts, leaders and observers read Pope Francis reflection on family life, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). The apostolic exhortation was released at mid-day in Rome April 8 (6 a.m. Eastern time). NCR reporters continue to gather reactions and analysis to the pope’s reflections on family life and the two world synod of bishops he called to discuss families.

Read the latest reactions here, and keep checking back throughout the day.

'This is a step in the right direction, maybe even a leap'

Fr. Michael Ryan has been pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle for 28 years.

The tone and the language are new, even radical. I would also say that it opens a new way for the church to teach and apply its doctrine and its rules. This is where all the emphasis on discernment and dialogue and prayer and context -- there's a huge emphasis on the situation people find themselves in -- and the role of conscience. All of those have appeared in one way or another in church teaching and church documents, but that's what characterizes this whole document.

This is a pope who's in touch with real people and their lives. I think he knows himself and he knows people.

I preached on it this weekend and used it in my homily and I didn't get one negative [response]. I got an outpouring of comments I have never received before. ... I know there must be a backlash from people who like to live in a more black and white world and who wish the church would keep the demarcation very clear between black and white. I suppose they're not happy at all but I haven't heard from them yet.

He [Pope Francis] spends a great deal of time on the forum of conscience and the internal forum of a pastor dealing with parishioners and individuals and the importance of prayer and careful discernment. Taking into account the person, all of these things say to me that he is wanting to open the door.

He is trying to open doors, not to dole out cheap grace. I think he is trying to lead people to deeper grace in their own lives by prayerfully trying to understand where they are in their relationship with God and what God is calling them to. But this opens doors, it doesn't close them.

I never thought I would live to see this day. I'm deeply grateful. We haven't arrived at the promised land and this is a step in the right direction, maybe even a leap.

You can read the full text of Ryan's weekend homily here.

— Elizabeth A. Elliott, posted at 3:06 p.m. Central

Readers should look beyond their own motives, "meet Francis on his own terms"​

Three things stood out most to John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America: the amount Pope Francis draws upon the work of the synods, the incorporation of the teachings of his immediate predecessors on the area of marriage and family, and the focus on accompaniment and discernment.

"It's very obvious he listened very deeply to the bishops who were there," said Grabowski, who was also present at the synod last fall. "Previous popes have written Apostolic Exhortations to synods, but not to this extent. This is a very, very deep engagement."

Grabowski said as he read the document, a recurring thought stirred: Francis "wants pastors who have the smell of sheep on them," he said, citing Francis' earlier apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. The pope wants "pastors who are out there rubbing elbows with the people they pastor, spending time with families, especially poor families, sharing time and meals with them," said Grabowski.

The document only touched briefly on important and controversial issues like women's roles in the church and same-sex marriage, he said.

"Those were part of the synod discussion, but the sense was these deserve their own synod," Grabowski said. "Obviously there is more that could be said or should be said, but to spend more time on those really important issues would have distracted what focus there is in the document."

Grabowski also urged readers to look beyond their own motives and instead "to meet Francis on his own terms." Too many people, he said, pull certain pieces from the document to fit their own agenda.

"We want the instant soundbite about what is changing in the church's teaching or practice when Francis says, 'I'm not in any way changing the teaching,'" he said, adding, "If you just pull those issues out, you aren't going to get Pope Francis' overall mission."

The pope's biggest message, said Grabowski, is getting the whole church involved in the evangelization.

-- Traci Badalucco, posted at 2:11 p.m. Central

'This to me is living the Incarnation truthfully' 

Sister of the Living Word Kristine Vorenkamp said she felt both relieved and happy about how the bishops are seeing Amoris Laetitia: as one of development, not change.

"That is quite important, I believe, because it is so very pastoral," she said in an email to NCR, adding that this document means an "emphasis on the social and psychological preparation in ministering to God's people."

"How great that finally the primacy of conscience is put as foundational -- it has always been so in our Catholic tradition. I understand Pope Francis to mean in this document that our faith/beliefs are to aid our conscience, not replace it. I think this is vital for today."

"This resonates with what we have been trained to understand in my religious life, based on the teachings of Vatican II," she continued. "In order to reflect theologically on any issue, one needs to consider the context, the church teachings, the culture and one's conscience."

Vorenkamp also highlighted Francis' call for the international church "to use discernment regarding the church teachings on areas of married life according to the concrete realities, not in generalities."

"This to me is living the Incarnation truthfully. I pray that this will take hold."

-- Soli Salgado, posted at 1:34 p.m. Central

Quotes from church leaders and observers on papal exhortation

Catholic News Service reported a series of April 8 reactions to Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation:

  • "'Amoris Laetitia' is a joyful invitation for families to live the works of mercy and to receive the gift of God's healing where there is sin and brokenness. As he has done time and again, Pope Francis challenges us to approach the weak with compassion, to 'enter into the reality of other people's lives and to know the power of tenderness.'" -- Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston.
  • "All of us at Priests for Life welcome the document issued today by Pope Francis called 'Amoris Laetitia,' which summarizes his teaching following the two worldwide synods of bishops held in the last two years on the topic of the family. We encourage all the clergy and laity to carefully read, study, discuss and apply this document, which repeats the church's teaching on life, marriage and family, and urges all of us to encourage one another with compassion and care as we strive to live that teaching." -- Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.
  • "He (Pope Francis) demonstrates exquisite sensitivity to the way that poverty, housing problems, violence, drugs, migration, arranged marriages, abandonment and persecution affect the family. Indeed, part of his rationale for pastoral sensitivity toward the divorced and remarried is his recognition that financial pressures often lead to remarriage. Francis' compassion runs out when it comes to the kinds of marital problems associated with the wealthy. No compassionate caveats are offered for those using contraception or reproductive technology. Surrogacy is denounced in scathing terms and contraception (is) tied to greed and consumerism." -- Candida R. Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.
  • "The Vatican offers seeds of hope for a church moving away from general and strict doctrinal rules to one of grace and growth. This challenging, and at times poetic document exhibits highs and lows, both championing pastoral discernment, the primacy of conscience, and even 'the women's movement,' but is riddled with an incomplete and painful understanding of feminism, reproductive health, gender, and sexual identity." -- Women's Ordination Worldwide.

Read CNS' full report of quotes here.

-- NCR staff, posted at 12:42 p.m. Central

Catholic University of America professor on document: 'It's beautiful, it's uplifting, it's practical'

Melissa Moschella, assistant professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America, said the document is fundamental in its teachings to prepare families for marriage.

"It's beautiful, it's uplifting, it's practical, it addresses families where they are and so I think it's going to do a lot of good in that sense if people follow the pastoral tips that he gives."

But by people, Moschella means the laity in particular -- not just the priests. "This isn't just the job of the priest, but it's the job of other married couples that can help younger married couples in a way that is maybe much more practical," Moschella said.  

Moschella, who teaches subjects like political philosophy, euthanasia and reproductive technologies, emphasized that while the pope's document highlights a need for more inclusiveness, it does not mean he is opening the door to issues like same-sex marriage and artificial reproduction.

"The pope is very strong in saying, 'No, God made us male and female,'" Moschella said. "He is also very clear about the fact that same-sex unions are simply not even comparable to genuine marriage because they lack that dimension of total self-giving."

Moschella reflected heavily on the theme of marriage throughout her interview with NCR, in an age where individualism is "rampant in our current culture." Looking beyond ourselves and fully committing to someone else, Moschella said, is the true definition of marriage, and a theme throughout the pope's document.

"I really do hope that people don't emphasize [hot button issues] to the point of forgetting about the main document, which is marriage preparation," said Moschella, and "really finding ways to meet the needs of real couples in order to help them live out this beautiful vision of marriage."

Moschella also said the document is something she could use to complement her lessons on bioethics, sexuality and abortion.

"There is so much richness in there in terms of understanding family life and the virtues that need to be lived in family life and education that is necessary to prepare people for family life."

What stood out most to Moschella, was "the way in which Pope Francis really has his finger to the pulse of contemporary society as far as the challenges we face to have a healthy marriage culture, and the need that he sees to make a really concerted effort to meet those challenges."

Moschella said she appreciated the connection Francis made between poverty and difficulties in marriage, and the challenges these families face in acquiring proper education and resources to successfully live out married life. But she would have liked to have seen the other side as well, particularly the situation Americans face, and "the fact that it's actually the lack of family stability and lack of stable marriages and households that leads to the continuation of cycles of poverty."

-- Traci Badalucco, posted at 12:19 p.m. Central 

African theologian responds to 'Amoris Laetitia'

This is a reaction to the exhortation from Jesuit Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, the principal of Hekima University College in Nairobi and a well-known African theologian:

... Looking at the exhortation from the perspective of the church in Africa, I believe that the realistic tone of the document is a much needed guide for the African church. In other words, the realization that the first task of the church is not merely to squabble over contested moral issues. Besides, "the joy of love" notwithstanding, family life and marriage can be a place of enormous stress, burdens and nightmares [paragraph 30]; it is not to be romanticized [paragraph 36]. If we understand what this means, we can begin to tone down some of our rigid positions and see family life and marriage as opportunity rather than a problem [paragraph 7].

My reading of it tells me that Francis reaffirms in uncompromising terms the church's teaching on abortion, contraception, birth control, and marriage. What we must not forget is that he is just as uncompromising in affirming the centrality of conscience (#303), discernment, pastoral accompaniment, and compassion.

As I see it, when the exhortation talks about conscience, it places a powerful tool in [the] hands of married, divorced, and remarried Catholics. To put it simply, Francis gives them permission to participate in the Eucharistic life of the church without fear of or hindrance by stone-throwing moral police who disguise their moralizing crusade under the cloak of doctrine [paragraph 305]. ...

Read Orobator's full reaction here.

-- Joshua J. McElwee, posted at 12:01 p.m. Central 

Lorretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick "extremely disappointed in these bland remarks"

Though Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick said that Pope Francis reminds her of a father wishing his child a joyful marriage while offering advice, she said that the document fell short in addressing LGBT issues.

Pointing to paragraph 250, Gramick -- a leading advocate for LGBT rights as a co-founder of New Ways Ministry -- said she was "extremely disappointed in these bland remarks," such as how the homosexual person needs to be "respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, and 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence," as well as how families with LGBT members need "respectful pastoral guidance" form the church and its pastors so that gay and lesbians can fully carry out God's will in their lives.

In an email to NCR, Gramick said Francis merely "repeats previous calls for non-discrimination without giving examples of what that discrimination entails. LGBT people are shunned, fired from their jobs, bullied, jailed, executed and assassinated."

"The document shows no understanding of gender identity, and of the pain parents feel when their child says they want to die because they are in the wrong body. Society once thought that homosexuality was a choice; now we know that the orientation is not a choice, but a discovery that one makes about oneself. So too with gender identity. The person comes to discover that their body does not match who they really are inside. The person must follow the inner promptings of the heart."

"The document declares that the church has often foisted upon people an 'artificial theological ideal of marriage' that is removed from people's everyday lives (par. 36). I ask, 'Do we have an artificial theological ideal that all marriages should be heterosexual?'"

Gramick also noted that Amoris Laetitia speaks about the theological principle of Gradualness, while failing to mention change in church teaching, "particularly changes in sexual teachings."

"A knowledge of church history shows that sexual teachings have changed over the centuries and they will continue to change. I think Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for this change."

-- Soli Salgado, Global Sisters Report, posted at 11:16 a.m. Central 

Catholic Association advises close study of document

The Catholic Association, a Washington D.C.-based organization that bills itself as "a faithful Catholic voice in the public square," has issued the following statement on Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"):

The Holy Father has given the Church what Archbishop [Charles] Chaput [of Philadelphia] called "a serious and extensive reflection on Christian marriage." Its very length, over 60,000 words and more than 250 pages long, is a manifestation of just how seriously the Church and Pope Francis take the institution of marriage. 

Its length and breadth are also why the Pope has asked us to work through the document slowly and prayerfully, and to avoid rushing to fit it into the brief soundbites that pundits are always looking for. As Archbishop [José] Gomez [of Los Angeles] said in response to Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis "has asked us to read his reflections slowly and carefully and I am going to continue to do that."

But a few initial and important points stand out. One is that Pope Francis reiterates yet again that Amoris Laetitia is in no way a change in Church doctrine. His choice of using an exhortation rather than an encyclical underscores this and is consistent with his repeated emphasis that he does not want to change doctrine. Rather, he seeks to present the Gospel in a merciful way that resonates in today's broken world.

Amoris Laetitia abounds with beautiful language that affirms the unique gift of Christian marriage. It reminds us marriage is an essential vessel for the discovery of the joy of the Gospel and the loving message of Jesus Christ who used the metaphor of marriage to describe his own relationship with the Church.

The Catholic Association looks forward to working through this gift from the Holy Father with prayerful patience with the guidance of our bishops and theologians.

Posted by NCR Staff 10:49 a.m. Central.

Reactions from Friday, April 8, the day Amoris Laetitia was released

-- Posted by NCR Staff 10:32 a.m. Central, April 11

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