Amoris Laetitia: What people are saying

A journalist takes photos of copies of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation (CNS)

Church leaders have welcomed the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which was published on Friday.

Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban said: “What is new about this exhortation is its tone,” that it exhorted ministers “to be warm and caring in the way they deal with people in difficult circumstances”. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin identified “a unifying thread: The Gospel of the family is challenging and demanding, but … with the grace of God and his mercy, is attainable and fulfilling, enriching and worthwhile”.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane described the heart of the interview thus: “A genuinely pastoral approach to marriage and the family begins with the facts.” For Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, “Pope Francis challenges us to approach the weak with compassion.”

Commentators were impressed by the document’s wisdom, with Carl Olson saying: “In its best moments, Amoris Laetitia presents the bracing vocation and beautiful vision of marriage and family life.” He added – in a reservation expressed by others – “It is in the pastoral details that matters become muddled at times, regardless of good intentions.” Some focussed on the much-discussed footnotes: Edward Peters argued that the Church’s law on receiving communion was entirely unchanged by Amoris Laetitia –a point argued earlier on the Catholic Herald by Edward Condon.

On the whole, those anxious about whether the Pope might contradict the Magisterium were reassured. James Schall remarked: “I was prepared for the worst, something that might well have touched the infallibility issues.” But though Fr Schall wondered if the document downplayed the reality of sin, “I thought that the papal presentation was in fact generally quite good, even profound in many places.” Joseph Shaw wrote: “We can say whatever we like about how he should have been clearer, should have reiterated this or that teaching: perhaps he should. But he is not publicly and explicitly teaching heresy.”

Two priests offered reality checks. Fr Dwight Longenecker observed that the Pope was trying to deal with “complex and heartbreaking” situations which every priest knows from his own pastoral practice. “The people picking through the Pope’s exhortation like carrion crows do not make me feel very good to be honest.”

In a follow-up post, Fr Longenecker pointed to the big picture: a comprehensive “Marriage Mess”, as he put it, in which the meaning of relationships and lifelong commitment has been thrown into confusion by social, economic and cultural forces both inside and outside the Church. “A true pastoral approach assists people who are wounded by the Marriage Mess and helps them find repentance and mercy. It helps them fit the mess they are in with the high standards the Catholic faith demands.”

Fr Ray Blake wrote: “The bottom line is that those who shouldn’t receive communion will still come up and do so, it is the pastoral reality of Catholic life today.” He added sceptically: “And yet the document itself tells us that doctrine and pastoral practice are to be interpreted according to culture.”

Ross Douthat of the New York Times argued that the document had made the “Catholic truce” between liberals and conservatives less likely to endure.

Non-Catholic publications focussed on the Pope’s call for “compassion’ (The Guardian), “leniency” (Buzzfeed), “more understanding” (BBC News), and an “openness” – which “can at times seem to give vague answers” (Time).

The Telegraph said the Pope was “signalling a softer stance”. As CNN put it: “Pope Francis put his shoulder to the doors of the Catholic Church and shoved them open a little wider Friday, calling for the Church to be more tolerant in practice while not changing any official doctrines.”