FRANCIS DOCUMENT ON FAMILY - THE JOY OF LOVE
by Joshua J. McElwee NCR

In a radical departure from recent pastoral practice, Pope Francis has asked the world's Catholic clergy to let their lives become "wonderfully complicated" by embracing God's grace at work in the difficult and sometimes unconventional situations families and marriages face -- even at risk of obscuring doctrinal norms.
The pontiff has also called on bishops and priests globally to set aside fears of risking moral confusion, saying they must avoid a tendency to a "cold bureaucratic morality" and shift away from evaluating peoples' moral status based on rigid canonical regulations.
In a substantial and already hotly debated document addressing church teaching on family life, Francis says that Catholic bishops and priests can no longer make blanket moral determinations about so-called "irregular" situations such as divorce and remarriage.
Writing in his new apostolic exhortation, titled Amoris Laetitia ('The Joy of Love'), the pope strongly advocates for the worth of the traditional, life-long Christian marriage but speaks respectfully of nearly all models of family life.
He also persistently asks the church's pastors to shift away from models of teaching focused on repetition of doctrine in favor of compassion and understanding for peoples' struggles, and how God may be calling to them in the depths of their own consciences.
"It ... can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace," states the pontiff at one point in the document, released by the Vatican Friday.
"It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individualís actions correspond to a general law
 


 

or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being," the pope writes later.
"Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits," states Francis. "By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God."
Earlier in the document, the pope acknowledges that the way the church has expressed its family life teachings in the past has not left enough room for individuals to make appropriate decisions about their own lives.
"We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life," writes Francis.
"We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden," he continues.
"We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations," he states. "We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them."
Such language, openly reevaluating how the church approaches and considers families around the world, pervades the 263-page document, which is expansive in scope.

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