Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has said his diocese will develop its pastoral practice in response to Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia.
In a pastoral letter to be read out in the diocese’s churches this Sunday, Bishop Egan says he would like both clergy and laypeople to “review and develop our pastoral practice” around marriage.
The bishop adds that the Pope’s apostolic exhortation “does not change Church discipline”, a reference to the issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried.
Bishop Egan says that Amoris Laetitia, which was published in April, looks at four areas in particular: promoting the vocation to marriage among young people; marriage preparation; supporting Christian families; and helping those “in troubled relationships and so-called ‘irregular unions’”. The pastoral letter addresses possible changes in all four areas.
Bishop Egan calls for “a richer theology and deeper culture of vocation throughout the diocese”, treating marriage as “a call from God … in the Church for the world”. He mentions possible changes in the curriculum, and commends the Explore programme, in which married couples give presentations to schoolchildren.
Marriage preparation is described as a “crucial area”, and as well as mentioning the Engage programme, Bishop Egan recommends a 12-month notice period, so that pastors have time to help a couple prepare for marriage. He also reiterates canon law’s requirement that Catholics should normally receive the sacrament of Confirmation before that of Matrimony.
Bishop Egan asks for a review of current practice in each parish and pastoral area, to make sure their marriage preparation covers “the sacramental theology of marriage, the spirituality of marriage and family life, advice on NFP and communication skills”.
The bishop says he hopes to offer diocesan days of recollection for engaged couples; on the third point, supporting married couples, he encourages couples to take part together in an occasional weekend retreat.
On the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried, Bishop Egan says that “Pope Francis reaffirms Jesus’ teaching on chastity, marriage, sexuality and family life; he does not change Church discipline. But he does speak in a new compassionate way about those who have drifted from the practice of faith because they have found themselves in marital situations and patterns of behaviour at variance with the Gospel.
“He urges us to adopt a new attitude, not to be shrill or hard-line judgmental, but always to reach out with God’s mercy, to show compassion, to include not exclude, to foster growth and discernment.”
Bishop Egan’s letter follows recent pastoral guidelines from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which say that “the Holy Father himself states clearly that neither Church teaching nor the canonical discipline concerning marriage has changed”, while calling for “a sensitive accompaniment” of those not living in accord with Church teaching.