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Ethics & Religion
April 13, 2016
Column #1,807
Pope Francis on Love & Marriage
By Mike McManus


Generations 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 hospital."

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 needs."

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 communities..."

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, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. Go to to see past columns; Hit Search for any topic.


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