Lately we priests hear things like, "I know Pope Francis is changing things, therefore can I do such and such or is such and such still a sin?" Of course when we tell them that yes it is still a sin and no Pope Francis did not change that, we usually get told how unlike Pope Francis we are, namely lacking compassion. But compassion does not mean becoming a partner in crime with some one's bad choices or lifestyle. Mercy and truth are connected and it is profoundly unloving to tell someone what they are doing is right when it is clearly wrong.
Pope Francis just issued a new Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, "Amoris Laetitia: The Joy of Love". The document is the fruit of the 2015 Synod on the Family. Many had predicted that the Pontiff would radically alter Church teaching on marriage, family and sexuality in light of the present culture. Well here is what he actually wrote:
That human sexuality requires an openness to life (i.e., no contraception) in every marital act;
The right to life, and the right – and duty – of healthcare workers not to participate in abortion, euthanasia, and other anti-life medical procedures;
Unambiguously states that "homosexual unions are in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family" (though persons with same-sex attraction should be ministered to);
The need of children for both a mother and a father, and to be born of their own parents (even if sometimes with special needs), not via reproductive technologies that dominate human life or make children mere players in their parent's life plans;
The right of parents to control the education of their children and to receive assistance from the community in doing so.
Obviously this is all an affirmation of the longstanding teaching of the Church on marriage and the family. What is different in this Exhortation is the beautiful description of marital love with its many blessings as well as a frank admission of the challenges that married couples face. But mostly Pope Francis insists that the Church accompany people through the many stages of their lives from being single, to courtship, to engagement, up to the altar and well into married life.
Pope Francis understands well the challenges young people face today and the need for the Church to help them sort through the unrealistic expectations about marriage and family life that are often created by the modern world. No easy task there.
While Pope Francis is clear on doctrine and Church teaching finding pastoral solutions that assist people in difficult circumstances is his main goal. This can be rather frustrating for the black and white, either/or thinkers but dealing with people in their circumstances is often more of an art than a science. The Pope put it this way: "I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street" (No. 308). A document such as Amoris Laetitia gets politicized pretty quickly and we as Catholics should avoid that temptation. Our goal and purpose is simple: let the love of Christ shine in our marriages and our homes and reveal the true joy of loving.
Pope Francis realizes there is a lot at stake when it comes to marriage and the family, one that as Pope John Paul II often said affects the very future of civilization itself.
Love, Fr. John B.