By Margaret M. Russell | The Catholic Free Press
Marriage is in a bad way and in the years since the 1980 synod on the family there have been tremendous changes in society, panelists agreed during a discussion of “Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love,” held Oct. 27.
“Amoris Laetitia” is Pope Francis’ reflection on the latest synods on marriage and family held in 2014 and 2015 and is meant to share his teaching and give encouragement on pastoral ministry to families in this “sexually bewildered age,” as one of the panelists called it.
Two bishops and a theologian discussing the apostolic exhortation felt the new document was faithful to Church teaching and was not intended to create new doctrine. A fourth panelist was not so sure.
The press and public have seized on a footnote in the more-than-300-paragraph document that has been interpreted as opening the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to participate in the Eucharist.
EWTN News Director Raymond Arroyo moderated Assumption College’s President’s Lecture Series at Hagan Hall which posed the question: “Pope Francis on Marriage and the Family; Faithful Continuity or Departure from Tradition?”
The papal exhortation “captured much of what was said in the synods,” according to Archbishop Edward Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and synod attendee. However, he said, “I’m still unpacking the document.”
But it was clear to him: “There is no new teaching in the document.”
He said the Holy Father wants readers to consider the beauty of marriage and the family. He cited Paragraph 11 where the Pope writes, “fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life.”
Archbishop Kurtz went on to say that faithful families must be “missionary families” and witness clearly to God’s love.
Bishop McManus also said that “Amoris” reaffirms traditional teaching on the family. He said the purpose of the document was to address the concerns of the bishops of the world and to help pastors reach out in mercy and compassion to those in irregular situations (ie: cohabitation before marriage, divorced and remarried persons in regards to receiving Communion, and so-called same sex marriage).
The document teaches, he said, that marriage and family life is good news; “a source of joy and hope for the world and rooted in divine revelation.”
Bishop McManus also said the document makes clear that the elements of marriage have not changed: it is between a man and a woman, faithful, indissoluable, pro-children and a sacrament. He also pointed out that same-sex relationships are not analogous to marriage.
Pastorally, the document calls for accompaniment, discernment and integration, before and after marriage, Bishop McManus said. He says what “Amoris” teaches is in continuity with the writings of Saint John Paul II, when he was pope, and Pope Benedict XVI.
Theologian Margaret Harper McCarthy says that because of the unity of the papacy there can be no change in the disciplines with regard to admission to the Eucharist. “The faithful need not lurch from one pope to the next,” she said.
McCarthy is an assistant professor at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for the Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., said many are interpreting the exhortation to be saying that there are changes in Church teaching. But Professor McCarthy noted that “Amoris” can’t be a change in discipline “because, if it were, it would have to be stated more clearly.”
Mr. Royal noted that with regard to divorced Catholics who remarry without annulment, there are differing opinions on whether they are now allowed to receive Communion.
If one reads the document as a pragmatist, Mr. Royal said, “it is clear that ‘Amoris Laetitia’ has done many more things than what is in the text.”
A pragmatist would say “a thing is partly what it does,” Mr. Royal said. He cited the difference in interpretation of the document by bishops in various countries. Bishops in Poland, he said, say that if a Catholic who is divorced and remarried (without annulment) presents himself or herself for Communion, they “commit a sacrilege.” But if that same person crosses the border in to Germany, where there is what Mr Royal called an “overly generous interpretation,” one of the expressions of mercy would be to receive this person for Communion.
“I fear that intended or not, one of the effects is to play into the rewriting of the Catholic teaching of marriage and sexuality and has created confusion,” Mr Royal said.
Mr. Royal contends that “when the faithful are confused the Holy Father has to bring them together.”
Archbishop Kurtz said, “We need to begin by receiving the document within the continuity of the tradition.”
If the document had intended changes it would have been written in clear language, the Archbishop said. “It is improper to read into the ambiguous nature of footnotes,” he said.