Pope Francis’ widely anticipated post-synodal exhortation has been released.
During a press conference in the Holy See Press Office this morning, the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Latin for ‘Joy of Love’) was presented.
The panel presenting the document included Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office; Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops; Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna; and the married couple Professor Francesco Miano, lecturer in moral philosophy at the University of Rome at Tor Vergata, and Professor Giuseppina De Simone in Miano, lecturer in philosophy at the Theological Faculty of Southern Italy in Naples.
This 263-page document gathers the Holy Father’s conclusions, following the two synods dedicated to the theme of family: the Extraordinary Synod of 2014 and the Ordinary Synod of 2015.
The Exhortation is made up of nine chapters, subdivided into 325 paragraphs with 391 notes and the final prayer to the Holy Family.
The press conference was made available via live streaming on the site http://player.rv.va and will remain there, available on demand.
Generally, popes write a post-synodal apostolic exhortation as a sort of conclusion to the discussions held in a synod. For example, Benedict XVI released in 2010 Verbum Domini: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church and in 2007, Sacramentum Caritatis: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission.
At the start of today’s press conference, Fr. Lombardi stressed how this was an extremely important press conference and this document has been widely anticipated.
Cardinal Schonborn highlighted that the text of the Pope’s is readable, and encouraged everyone to not be dissuaded by its length, because within it one will find joy in its concreteness and realism.
“Pope Francis speaks about families with a clarity that is not easy to find in the magisterial documents of the Church,” he said.
Before entering into the text itself, the cardinal said, “I would like to say, in a very personal way, why I read it with joy, gratitude and always with strong emotion.”
Cardinal Schonborn pointed out that on the one hand, there are marriages and families that are “regular”, that correspond to the rules, “where everything is ‘fine’ and ‘in order,'” and then there are the “irregular” situations “that represent a problem.”
“I am personally aware of how difficult that is for those who come from a ‘patchwork’ family, due to the situation of my own family.”
“Pope Francis,” he said, “has succeeded in speaking about all situations without cataloguing them, without categorising, with that outlook of fundamental benevolence that is associated with the heart of God, with the eyes of Jesus that exclude no-one (cf. AL 297), that welcome all and grant the ‘joy of the Gospel’ to all.”
This, the cardinal suggested, is why reading Amoris Laetitia is “so comforting.”
“No-one must feel condemned, no-one is scorned. In this climate of welcome, the discourse on the Christian vision of marriage and the family becomes an invitation, an encouragement, to the joy of love in which we can believe and which excludes no-one, truly and sincerely no-one.”
Cardinal Schonborn said that for him, the Pope’s post-synodal exhortation is first and foremost, a “linguistic event.”
In this exhortation, following the progress made in the synods, the cardinal expressed his joy that the wording is not critical. “There now,” he said, “is a profound respect when faced with every person who is never firstly a ‘problematic case’ in a ‘category,’ but rather a unique person, with his story and his journey with and towards God.”
This pervasive principle of “inclusion,” the Archbishop of Vienna acknowledged, clearly troubles some people.
“Does this not favour relativism?” he asked. “Does the frequently evoked mercy not become permissiveness” Does there no longer exist the clarity of limits that must not be exceeded, situations that must objectively be defined as irregular or sinful? Does this Exhortation favour a certain laxity, a sense that “anything goes”? Is Jesus’ mercy not instead often severe and demanding?
“To clarify thus: Pope Francis leaves no doubt regarding his intentions or our task:
‘As Christians, we can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities, or out of a desire to be fashionable or a sense of helplessness in the face of human and moral failings. We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer. It is true that there is no sense in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things. Nor it is helpful to try to impose rules by sheer authority. What we need is a more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations for choosing marriage and the family, and in this way to help men and women better to respond to the grace that God offers them.’ (AL 35).”
The Austrian cardinal also underscored how the Pope says the Church’s treatment of marriage in the past requires some ‘self-criticism.’
“‘We have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families,'” the cardinal said, citing the Pope. “‘This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.” (AL 36).
With regard to those who are divorced and civilly remarried, he states: “I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that … the logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care. … Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always…” (AL 299).
“But what does this mean in practice?” he asked.
“Many rightly ask this question,” he responded, noting, “The definitive answers are found in Amoris Laetitia, paragraph 300. These answers certainly offer material for further discussions, but they also provide an important clarification and an indication of the path to follow. “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations … it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases”. Many expected such rules, and they will be disappointed. What is possible? The Pope says clearly: “What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”
Excessive challenge for pastors?
Is it an excessive challenge for pastors, for spiritual guides and for communities if the “discernment of situations” is not regulated more precisely? Pope Francis acknowledges this concern: “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion” (AL 308). However, he challenges this, remarking that “We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311).
Cardinal Baldisseri pointed out that the exhortation made public today was signed by Pope Francis on March 19th, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, and stressed that its release in the Jubilee of Mercy is significant, observing that its text refers to this three times, directly citing the Bull of Indiction Misericordiae Vultus six times.
Pope Francis explicitly makes his own the declarations that both Synods presented to him: “the Synod Fathers reached a general consensus, which I support” (AL 297).
“The Holy Father clearly affirms the doctrine of marriage and the family, especially in ch. III, and he proposes it as an indispensable ideal,” the Italian cardinal stressed.
“Referring to young people, he states: ‘In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur. […] Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral care to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown” (AL, 307). On the other hand,” he continued, “the Pope does not overlook the fragility of families and even their failure.”
He also noted to whom and to what the document makes numerous references, including St. Thomas, St. Therese of Lisieux, his predecessors and their encyclicals, and the Catechism.
Some highlights, according to Cardinal Baldisseri, were:
- In an era of global crisis in which families often suffer, the Exhortation takes a positive look at the beauty of married love and the family.
- The Bishop has the task of leading the people of God, following the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).
- Like any pastor, Pope Francis addresses his paternal care to the “immense variety of concrete situations” (AL, 300). Therefore, he says: “it is understandable that neither the Synod nor the Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (ibid).
- From the perspective of fulfilling the ideal of marriage, the Exhortation has put great emphasis on the preparation of engaged couples for the sacrament.
- In accompanying the frailties and treating the wounds, the principle of gradualness in pastoral care reflects divine teaching: how God cares for all his children, beginning with the weakest and furthest away, so “the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner.”
Summary of Amoris Laetitia: https://zenit.org/articles/summary-of-amoris-laetitia-on-love-in-the-family/
Full Text of Amoris Laetitia: https://zenit.org/articles/amoris-laetitia-full-text/
Cardinal Baldisseri’s intervention: https://zenit.org/articles/cardinal-baldisseris-intervention-at-presentation-of-amoris-laetitia/
Cardinal Schonborn’s intervention: https://zenit.org/articles/cardinal-schonborns-intervention-at-presentation-of-amoris-laetitia/
Married couple’s intervention: ZENIT will post the full translation once available