1. What is an Apostolic Exhortation?
An apostolic exhortation is a particular kind of papal teaching that communicates the mind of the pope on a certain topic. It is often used to share the conclusions reached by the Holy Father after consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. It can also be used as a way for the pope to exhort (encourage) the faithful to a deeper life of Christian discipleship as, for example, Pope Francis did in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world (Nov. 24, 2013).
2. Why did Pope Francis write this?
Amoris Laetitia is the result of Pope Francis’ prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of two synods of bishops held in Rome: an Extraordinary Synod in 2014, and an Ordinary Synod in 2015, both on the topic of marriage and the family. The exhortation is meant to share with the Church the Holy Father’s teaching and encouragement regarding pastoral ministry to families, and what marriages and families are called to at this time in history.
3. What did the Pope write about in this document?
Amoris Laetitia covers a wide range of topics related to marriage and family life, with a particular emphasis on the family’s vocation and mission of love. It speaks about the family’s strengths and gifts, and also the contemporary challenges faced by families throughout the world. The exhortation encourages married couples, families, and pastoral ministers to accompany and care for families and others in need of the Lord’s mercy and healing. It includes an extended reflection on love and what it means in the day-to-day reality of marriage and family life.
4. Does Amoris Laetitia change any Church teachings?
No. Apostolic Exhortations do not change doctrine. Canon Law also is not changed by the Exhortation. For example, Pope Francis mentions that “…neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules… What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases… Priests have the duty to “accompany (the divorced and remarried) in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.” (300)
5. What about people who are divorced and remarried? Can they receive the Sacraments?
All Catholics must sacramentally confess all serious sins of which he or she is aware, with a firm purpose to change, before receiving the Eucharist. With divorced and civilly-remarried couples, the truth about marriage as the Church understands it requires abstinence from sexual intimacy in order to be eligible to receive the Sacraments, and as long as there is no scandal or an implication that the Church’s teaching can be set aside. Divorced and remarried persons should not hold positions of responsibility in a parish or carry out liturgical functions. This is a difficult teaching for many, but anything less misleads people about the nature of the Eucharist and the Church. The grace of Jesus Christ is more than a pious cliché: it is a real and powerful seed of change in the believing heart.
6. Is a person who is divorced and remarried “excommunicated” from the Church?
No. A person who is divorced and remarried may not be eligible to receive Holy Communion (Eucharist), but being ineligible to receive Holy Communion is not excommunication.
7. What did the Pope say about treatment of people with homosexual attractions?
Section 250 and 251 of Amoris Laetitia speaks to families about helping members with same-sex attraction. It mentions that the Synod Fathers “discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”
Pope Francis also reaffirmed that marriage is simply a lifelong, committed relationship between a man and a woman: “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex”.
8. What can I learn from this document for my family and walk with Christ?
Married people will find particularly Chapters 4 and 5 to be beautiful in their reflection on St. Paul’s hymn on love, “Love is patient. Love is kind…” Pope Francis has obviously counseled many married couples pastorally, and his reflections here are very practical and call us to a deeper marital love. Chapter 5 is for parents, and speaks to the beauty and dignity of children, that our being open to them in our marital embrace is at the core of what love is in marriage. It is an encouragement to love as God loves in his Trinitarian reality.
9. How is the Diocese of Phoenix responding to Pope Francis’ concerns in Amoris Laetitia?
Marriage Preparation, largely the focus of Chapter 6 of AL, has been greatly strengthened in the Diocese of Phoenix, where the laity called to marriage are shown the fullness of what marriage calls them to — the “full ideal” as Pope Francis calls it, from our Lord. Couples are given the opportunity to have all of the key conversations prior to marriage about their particular relationship and the meaning of love in marriage.
10. How can I get a copy of the apostolic exhortation?
Amoris Laetitia is available for purchase through the USCCB store. It can also be read in its entirety on the Vatican website.