Cardinal Marc Ouellet has said Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis, could lead to “fruitful” debate.
Speaking at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus in Toronto, Cardinal Ouellet said: “In all honesty, I think that controversies around Amoris Laetitia are understandable, but, in all confidence, I believe they might even be fruitful in the end.”
The cardinal, who is head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, said he was grateful for Amoris Laetitia, which he described as “a document worth reading and rereading, slowly, one chapter after another, enjoying the marvellous chapter four on love”.
Cardinal Ouellet also touched on chapter eight, which has provoked considerable debate. He said the chapter should be interpreted via the “careful and open-minded discernment of priests and bishops towards people in need of charity and mercy.”
A group of 45 theologians and pastors have written to the world’s cardinals, asking them to request a clarification from the Pope, largely concerning statements in chapter eight.
The group’s spokesman, Dr Joseph Shaw, said last month that the group was “concerned that Catholics might understand some passages of Amoris Laetitia as contradicting the doctrine of the Catholic faith.
“The remedy for this danger is an authoritative and final statement by the Supreme Pontiff stating that these understandings cannot be held by Catholics, and that Amoris Laetitia does not present them as magisterial teachings or require that they be believed.”
The letter mentions nineteen propositions which should be condemned, including that the divorced and remarried should be able to receive Communion, even if not living as brother and sister.
Cardinal Ouellet is a supporter of the current discipline: as the 2015 synod on the family approached, he published an updated edition of his book Mystery and Sacrament of Love. The book was a frequent touchstone for those arguing against any change in Church discipline.
In his speech, the cardinal said that Amoris Laetitia did not suggest a change in doctrine. “What is proposed is a new pastoral approach: more patient and respectful, more dialogical and merciful,” he said.
He added: “I am confident this process of discernment will bear fruit for all Christian families.”
Cardinal Ouellet also praised the Pope’s Jesuit practice of twice daily examinations of conscience and his outreach to the poor and marginalised, especially to prisoners.
“The Holy Father is aware of his own wounds, mistakes and sins,” said Cardinal Ouellet. “He approaches those in need who are in jail not from on high, demanding respect, but asking for forgiveness.”
Pope Francis’s life of prayer brings him closer to the Holy Spirit, the cardinal said.
“Our own Pope Francis is also unpredictable, like the Holy Spirit,” he added.
Cardinal Ouellet urged the Knights of Columbus to engage in dialogue that is “delicate and respectful, cognisant of our own mistakes”. He also praised the Knights for their record of service and charity.
“This aspect of charity is emphasised by the Apostles, and Pope Francis,” he said. “Our Holy Father shows us that charity goes beyond being for people. We must also be with people, which also will transform us.”