Ethics & Religion
April 13, 2016
Pope Francis on Love & Marriage
By Mike McManus
of Catholics have been turned off by the church's positions on birth
control, divorce and the ravishing of children by thousands of priests.
While Catholics have grown from 48 million in 1965 to 77 million in
2014, there are 32 million former Catholics in America. That number is
double the largest Protestant denomination, Southern Baptists.
Despite Catholic population growth, the number of priests has dropped
from 68,700 in 1965 to only 38,200 in 2014.
Pope Francis has taken a giant step that might attract back many
Catholics by issuing an Exhortation called "Amoris Lactitia," Latin for
"The Joy of Love." A 256-page document, it is not a new book of rules,
but the opposite - giving nations, dioceses and priests the freedom to
decide how to show love or pastoral care for couples in all situations.
For example, it gives priests the freedom to decide whether a divorced
and remarried couple can receive communion, which has been prohibited
except to those who obtain an annulment of the first marriage.
Francis wrote that "the Church must accompany with attention and care
the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and troubled
love, by restoring in them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a
lighthouse in a port."
"Let us not forget that the Church's task is often like that of a field
The document notes that some cohabiting couples "are characterized by
deep affection and responsibility for their offspring, and demonstrate
an ability to overcome trials; they can provide occasions for pastoral
care with a view to the eventual celebration of marriage...These couples
need to be welcomed and guided patiently and discretely."
Francis did not change church doctrine on any issue. For example, he
wrote, "Divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces is very
troubling." However, his next sentence is, "Hence, our most important
pastoral task with regard to families is to strengthen their love,
helping to heal wounds and working to prevent the spread of this drama
of our times."
Pastors are asked to "avoid judgements which do not take into account
the complexity of various situations." He said the church cannot apply
moral laws as if they were "stones to throw at people's lives."
He asserted, "Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated in
the church's practice in certain situations which do not objectively
embody our understanding of marriage." For example, divorced and
remarried Catholics should be made to feel part of the church. "They are
not excommunicated and should not be treated as such since they remain
part" of the church.
The church should no longer talk about people "living in sin." Those
living in "irregular situations" should be offered "understanding,
comfort and acceptance." He said the church should stop applying moral
laws as if they were "stones to throw at a person's life."
Does this mean they can receive Communion? That is up to each person's
conscience. The Eucharist "is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful
medicine and nourishment for the weak."
How should that work? "Each country or region...can seek solutions
better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local
Pope Francis made it clear that same-sex unions are not considered
marriage, but he reaffirmed that the homosexual person needs to be
"respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration."
Similarly, he asserted that God's plan for the family is to be built on
the lifelong union of one man with one woman, open to having children.
"Amoris Laetitia" offers the vision of a pastoral and merciful church
that encourages people to experience the "joy of love." He noted, "No
family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly
to grow and mature in their ability to love."
Pope Francis has a rare gift to speak with the love of Jesus.
However, some conservatives labelled the Exhortation a "catastrophe,"
such as Canonist Edward Peters who asks how there can be "proven
fidelity" by a divorced and remarried couple who are in a "chronically
adulterous relationship?" They should "not receive Holy Communion."
By contrast, Pope Francis writes that "the baptized who are divorced and
civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian
Rev. James Maher, Catholic President of Niagara University, believes the
paper will inspire "pastors to be more engaged with their parishioners,
especially those who have felt abandoned by the church - to find a way
back to the life of the church."
I predict that many former Catholics will return to the church.
Copyright (c) 2016 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and
a syndicated columnist. Go to
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