By chance, I received a copy of the Pope’s new apostolic exhortation yesterday, about nine hours before it was published. So of course I started skimming it, if only to enjoy my brief time of being “in the know”: never forget, all you bloggers and blog readers, that when it comes to Amoris Laetitia I’m nine hours ahead of you. And I always will be. 😉
On a quick first-skim, I think there are two things to say about the document:
1. Families who read and live by this document will do very well.
The Pope offers a cornucopia of wisdom about marital love, about preparation for marriage, about raising and disciplining and educating children, about relationships with in-laws, about growing old with one’s spouse, and on and on. My seventeen years of marriage and seven children resonate with the Holy Father’s advice.
2. Pastors who have to apply this document are going to have problems.
In my commentary on Cardinal Kasper’s book, I reviewed the main magisterial documents on communion for the divorced and remarried. Kasper wanted the Church to discern whether people could come to communion on the basis of whether they are subjectively guilty of mortal sin, while the Church has to this point made that discernment based on whether people are in a public and objective condition contrary to Christ’s commandment.
Those are two very different approaches. In general, the Church has not allowed a pastor to refuse someone communion because that pastor is convinced that the person is in subjective state of mortal sin. She has reserved the refusal of communion for public situations, where a refusal of communion adds nothing to what everyone already knows about the individual.
Pope Francis has shifted the Church’s approach to align with Kasper’s. The key text is paragraph 300 of Amoris Laetitia. There, the Pope spells out that:
- Your local parish priest needs to engage in a series of conversations with the divorced and remarried who wish to receive communion.
- If he becomes convinced that this couple is subjectively guilty of grave sin or is not being honest about examining their consciences, it is his responsibility to publish that fact by denying them communion.
- If he becomes convinced that this couple is not guilty of grave sin, then it is his responsibility to admit them to communion in a way that casts no doubt on the Church’s commitment to her teachings on marriage.
- Throughout, it is his responsibility to conduct these conversations in a way that leaves no possibility that anyone could think he plays favorites in his decisions.
I have been in leadership situations where the hard call was mine to make. I am glad that I do not have Pope Francis’s job, that I have been spared the burden of deciding how the Church should approach excruciatingly painful pastoral situations. And now that he has done his job, I am glad – so, so glad! – that I do not have to carry the responsibility he has placed on parish priests. I pray that our good men in the priesthood will carry it well.