Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family is an example of the "ordinary magisterium" -- papal teaching -- to which Catholics are obliged to give "religious submission of will and intellect," said an article in the Vatican newspaper.
Fr. Salvador Pie-Ninot, a well-known professor of ecclesiology, said that while Pope Francis did not invoke his teaching authority in a "definitive way" in the document, it meets all the criteria for being an example of the "ordinary magisterium" to which all members of the church should respond with "the basic attitude of sincere acceptance and practical implementation."
The Spanish priest's article in L'Osservatore Romano Aug. 23 came in response to questions raised about the formal weight of the pope's document, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"). For instance, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke has said on several occasions that the document is "a mixture of opinion and doctrine."
Pie-Ninot said he examined the document in light of the 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the vocation of the theologian.
The instruction -- issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now-retired Pope Benedict XVI -- explained three levels of church teaching with the corresponding levels of assent they require. The top levels are: "Infallible pronouncements," which require an assent of faith as being divinely revealed; and teaching proposed "in a definitive way," which is "strictly and intimately connected with revelation" and "must be firmly accepted and held."
A teaching is an example of "ordinary magisterium," according to the instruction, "when the magisterium, not intending to act 'definitively,' teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect."
Amoris Laetitia falls into the third category, Pie-Ninot said, adding the 1990 instruction's statement that examples of ordinary magisterium can occur when the pope intervenes "in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements."
The instruction notes that "it often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent," although, as the Spanish priest said, the instruction insists that even then one must assume that "divine assistance" was given to the pope.
Accepting Amoris Laetitia as authoritative church teaching, Pie-Ninot said, applies also to the document's "most significant words" about the possibility of people divorced and remarried without an annulment receiving Communion in limited circumstances.