Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Joy of Love

Pope Francis wrote a new document called The Joy of Love recently. The document is about marriage and families, and it's a result of the two Synods on the same topic.

As usual, Pope Francis emphasizes mercy, compassion and love, not criticism, condemnation and anathemas. The Catholic Church has high standards when it comes to marriage. "Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect", as Jesus says. But when people fall short of the ideal, the solution is not to revile them or rebuke them. "Neither do I condemn you," as Jesus says to the woman caught in adultery. The solution is to treat them with mercy and to help them improve.

The letter is very long. It's over 250 pages, in fact. Some people recommend starting at Chapter Four.

The part that has everyone up in arms is the part where he talks about divorced (and remarried) people. These people are not always in a state of mortal sin; it's possible for someone to be divorced and remarried, without it being 100% their fault. Therefore, they should not be cut off from the church and the sacraments. They should consult their consciences and their local pastor, to determine if they should receive the sacraments.

People are freaking out, because they think it's not too far off from "It doesn't matter if you're divorced. You can still have communion if you want to." Some unscrupulous people have already started to twist the Pope's words, to make it seem like divorce is now acceptable, if not in law, then in practice. And of course, people will abuse the document to give themselves a free pass for doing bad things, like abandon their spouse in favor of someone else.

Pope Francis isn't changing the Church's teaching, of course. But it looks like he's changing the Church's practice concerning the civilly divorced and remarried. The previous practice was from Pope Saint John Paul II, in 1981. He took the "better safe than sorry" approach, and said that divorced and remarried people should observe full chastity, before receiving the sacraments. That way, they completely avoid the possibility of adultery. Obviously, that's a general solution which is applied to everyone; Francis would rather have things worked out case-by-case.

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