Part 3: Reactions to pope's reflection on family life

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri holds his copy of "Amoris Laetitia" during a news conference for the release of the document at the Vatican April 8. (CNS/Paul Haring)
This article appears in the Amoris Laetitia feature series. View the full series.

Read the latest reactions and analysis to Pope Francis reflection on family life, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"). You can review reactions from Part 2 of this series here, and reactions from the day the document was released here.

Keep checking back throughout the day for more updates.

The most practical change could be for divorced and remarried people receiving Communion

William Mattison III, interim dean of the school of theology and religious studies at the Catholic University of America, was upfront about the document's purpose -- to guide and pastor families.

"It is very beautiful," said Mattison. "It talks about everything from the nature of love to wedding preparation to having kids."

For those searching for answers to hot button issues like gay marriage and contraception, they could be disappointed.

"You don't get language that can be misconstrued," Mattison said of those who had hoped for controversial doctrinal changes.

The most practical change, he added, could be for divorced and remarried people receiving Communion, citing footnote 351 in the text -- what he says is the only mention of the sacrament throughout the 263-word document.

"That has the most potential in the future," he said, adding, "It clearly says 'Including the sacraments.' There are questions that have to be answered there and none of that has been done."

-- Traci Badalucco, posted at 4:14 p.m. Central 

Dayton professor loves 'colloquial' tone, but fears millennials will be disappointed

Jana Bennett, associate professor in the religious studies department at the University of Dayton, said the document's conversational tone was its distinguishing factor compared to previous papal documents.

"That is not the kind of instruction that I expected to hear from a papal document," Bennett said with a laugh. "There were times when I was reading it where the tone is like he is was in the room with me."

Bennett, a mother of three small children, said the pope's chapter dedicated to advice on raising kids struck a chord as well -- guidance she called "entrusting."

"I'm reading this and I'm like, 'Wow, he's trying to give some very familiar, colloquial advice.'"

Bennett called Chapter 4 "amazing" and "the most beautiful" of the document, adding that she hopes to read it together with her husband, Joel.

And as an academic, Bennett said she already has plans to incorporate the document in an upcoming lesson in her marriage and family class. Students are assigned "very close readings of difficult texts," she said, then prompted to take a real-life situation and contemplate what the authors would say -- in this case, Pope Francis.

But Jana said it's the millennials, especially her students, who might find the document disappointing.

"They just took the Supreme Court ruling in stride and said, 'This is the way things are so there is no real question here,'" about whether same-sex couples can marry in the church, she said. "They want to know why the church teaches what it does about gay marriage," adding, "There is not a real sense of activism."

Bennett appreciated the pope's warnings about technology and consumerism, a concern she often finds herself pondering.

"I worry that we are a little too welcoming of our devices and our consumer mentality without really thinking through, 'What is it doing to me and my relationships?'"

Finally, she said the pope's words to families are "perfect" and "kind" and brought the U.S.'s political climate to mind. Bennett said too much focus is placed on politics within the church, where Catholics are broken down into "conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics," and then further into "social justice Catholics and pro-life Catholics," adding, "I think that the pope is offering the word of admission for anyone who is wanting to take so-called sides and say, 'Look, we are all on our way and we are all growing.'"

And like many others NCR interviewed, Bennett says she plans to read Amoris Laetitia more thoroughly in the coming weeks.

"I devoured it on the first reading, and I'm looking forward to reading it more slowly," she said.

-- Traci Badalucco, posted at 2:24 p.m. Central

Cardinal Burke says Amoris Laetitia 'is not an act of the magisterium'

Cardinal Raymond Burke wrote about the pope's new apostolic exhortation in an exclusive essay for the National Catholic Register:

The secular media and even some Catholic media are describing the recently-issued post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, "On Love in the Family," as a revolution in the Church, as a radical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church, up to now, regarding marriage and the family.

Such a view of the document is both a source of wonder and confusion to the faithful, and potentially a source of scandal not only for the faithful but for others of good will who look to Christ and his Church to teach and reflect in practice the truth regarding marriage and its fruit, family life, the first cell of the life of the Church and of every society.

It is also a disservice to the nature of the document as the fruit of the Synod of Bishops, … Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium (No. 3). The very form of the document confirms the same. It is written as a reflection of the Holy Father on the work of the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops. …

In other words, the Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for His Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those who insist on what he calls "a more rigorous pastoral care." The personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature of the document is also evident in the fact that the references cited are principally the final report of the 2015 session of the Synod of Bishops, and the addresses and homilies of Pope Francis himself. There is no consistent effort to relate the text, in general, or these citations to the magisterium, the Fathers of the Church and other proven authors.

Read Cardinal Burke's full essay here.

-- NCR staff, posted at 11:14 a.m. Central 

Pope promotes radical tenderness

Andrew Hamilton, consulting editor of the Australian Jesuit publication Eureka Street, offered these reflections on the pope's exhortation:

Unlike most Vatican documents, which reward reflection but demand that readers wrestle with them, Amoris Laetitia could spark good conversation over a beer at the beach. Realistic sketches of the challenges facing married couples, accompanied by pithy and homely advice, such as commending Please, Thank you and Sorry as the three keys to good relationships, abound.

Pope Francis sketches an attractive view of marriage as a gift that Christian faith has to offer. The document's title, The Joy of Love, is embodied in its tone.

As a commentator, the Pope returns again and again to the need to focus on faces when thinking of family and responding to people, and not to hammer them with abstract ideals or rules.

His most succinct and focused argument comes when he recognises the importance of doctrine and law in Catholic conversations about marriage, and simultaneously insists on respecting the priority of people's conscience in deciding how they should act. And they should always be met with compassion.

Catholics need 'to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations' and 'to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition'.

I was struck by Francis' frequent evocation of tenderness as a central quality of marriage and family life. It underlined the centrality of love in his description of marriage and his insistence on the beauty and attractiveness of the Christian ideal of marriage. He gives this priority over the laws and expectations with which it is often identified.

The appeal to tenderness also illuminates the pastoral approach he expects Catholics to take to people in difficult situations. It points to the threads that join personal relationships in families with relationships within churches and relationships to the environment.

Tenderness is opposed to judging, talking down to one another, using rules or principles as a bludgeon with which to beat people, and neglecting the pain of people who are marginal or excluded.

Read Hamilton's full essay here.

-- NCR staff, posted at 11:06 a.m. Central

FutureChurch leader torn on the document's teachings

Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director at FutureChurch, said she is torn on the document's teachings. The right side of her brain, she said, knows there is always room for improvement -- particularly furthering women's role in the church -- while the left side of her brain says this is an important step in the right direction.

"What stands out most for us is the fact that this document brings to the front and center the notion of conscious on all discussions for every single Catholic in the church," a notion that will have a "very long-term and powerful, positive impact on the church," she said.

Rose-Milavec continued that while Pope Francis doesn't give any specific pathways in which to open doors to more people, "he did create a pathway that there is this internal forum," she said. She said the document breaks down walls built for years around the altars to exclude people. "Conscience is primary, accompaniment is primary, not judging is primary."

She was encouraged by Francis' opposition to those who have blamed society's problems on women's emancipation, underscoring his words that this argument "is not valid." "He knocks that argument right out of the ballpark," she said.

But the right side of her brain still says one thing: it's not enough.

"This notion of feminine genius is still rooted in some ways that I think are a rewrite of the old subordination," Rose-Milavec said, calling it "a new marketing of a very old, bad idea."

Her children, she said, operate on a much different scale than her parents and grandparents did at a time when there were distinct familial and societal roles among men and women.

"I see my son-in-laws and they are as nurturing and loving [as my daughters]," she said. "They notice little things that we did as mothers."

Another concern, she said, was the lack of dialogue as it pertains to the LGBT community in the church. Too many people, she said, have left the church due to dated ideas.

Rose-Milavec said she was hopeful moving forward, however, primarily because of the document's lack of certain language, citing phrases like "intrinsically disordered." "I think what gets left out is just as important."

She concluded that while the road ahead is long, Amoris Laetitia gives hope that there is a newer beginning, a path for everyone in the church.

"I hurt for the losses that this church has incurred for its decades movement toward a smaller, purer version," Rose-Milavec said. "That is not where my Catholic heart is, so I cheer every single moment where the church goes towards wide open arms with an ability to listen and learn."

-- Traci Badalucco, posted at 10:48 a.m. Central

Congregation of Notre Dame Sr. Susan Kidd appreciates that Amoris Laetitia puts the onus on clergy to 'have their own compassionate pastoral affairs in order'

Congregation of Notre Dame Sr. Susan Kidd said she isn't surprised by the tone of Amoris Laetitia.

"It's very much in keeping with the way Francis is addressing many issues," she said. "He's able to stick to the party line and yet put a lens on it that is very compassionate. I think it goes very well with his Year of Mercy."

Kidd serves as the sole campus minister at the secular University of Prince Edward Island, and as such, she interacts with students from a variety of backgrounds and with widely varying definitions of the word "family." Before the first synod on the family in 2014, Kidd told Global Sisters Report that the key to handling such diversity was to promote dialogue and avoid debate.

That policy has made Kidd a celebrity of sorts on the University of Prince Edward Island campus and in the surrounding community; it's not uncommon for prospective students to hear about her before even setting foot on the campus. Even students who are not religious.

Kidd appreciates that Amoris Laetitia puts the onus on clergy to "have their own compassionate pastoral affairs in order," adding that compassion can't be taught in a seminary course. Rather, she said, compassion comes from experience in shepherding a diverse flock.

"Life training has a lot do with it," she said.

-- Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, posted at 10:25 a.m. Central 

'I will use it in teaching. ... It's a great communication tool.' 

Peg Ekerdt is the pastoral associate at Visitation Church in Kansas City, Mo. She works in marriage preparation, annulment work and pastoral care.

What stands out for me initially is that I think the document acknowledges the complexity of life that surfaces in pastoral situations that do not always fit neatly into categories. I think we hear the goodness in people, we see the struggles and we know God is present and we want and we need as pastoral ministers to be present to our people. I think this document really helps us to do that because it acknowledges that there is complexity. He says at one point that not everything is black and white. We have the experience of seeing so many people struggling with life and trying to make good moral decisions and struggling with that and this allows us to be present to them.

I think [Pope Francis] certainly opens the door to conversation about internal forum and he doesn't do that lightly. He stresses that a well-formed conscience is essential but I think he allows our priests the possibility of having those conversations and encouraging people when appropriate.

The chapters on marriage where he breaks open the very-often heard "Love is patient, love is kind" is a beautiful statement that any of us can use in marriage and how we live about what is essential about love. It's really a beautiful statement that we could use in the family, we could use in the workplace. I feel like he [Pope Francis] must have a lot of pastoral experience in his life because the examples he gives are so very real.

I will use it in teaching. I think it was [NCR senior analyst] Tom Reese that said Chapter 4 should be used with every married couple and engaged couples. I will use it that way with our engaged couples allowing us to talk about that, sharing it with them, encouraging them to talk about it, in the sacrament class I teach with engaged couples. It's a great communication tool.

In marriage preparation, there's a class on sacrament and spirituality that's in addition to what they do with a couple. I teach with small groups of engaged couples to talk about where God is present in the love that they share and sacramental signs to the world. I surely will include this when they get their first packet of information. I will include Chapter 4 as Tom Reese suggests and use it for discussion and encourage them to use it that way.

The sections 136-140 on dialogue are really a primer for any of us on how to talk about differences, how to talk, how to listen. He talks about the fact that we don't have all the answers at all times. Whenever there's conflict, he said our very first response when we are annoyed with someone should be one of heartfelt blessing. That hit in me in a way that is very personal. When anybody annoys us, not just family but anywhere, if I could ever get to a place where my first response would be heartfelt blessing that would be a real gift.

I realize that we do a fairly good job at Visitation of marriage preparation and then we send them off into the world, but we don't do a lot for our young married people. But I could see bringing them back together once the wedding has happened and life is continuing to discuss this chapter and use it as a point of discussion. 

-- Elizabeth A. Elliott, posted at 10:06 a.m. Central

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