“The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”
With those opening words, Pope Francis began the second apostolic exhortation of his pontificate, Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” his reflection on the work of the Synod of Bishops in 2014 and 2015 on the crises and challenges facing families in the modern world.
Signed on March 16 and officially released on April 8 with a press conference in Rome, Amoris Laetitia is longer than most apostolic exhortations at 262 pages and nearly 60,000 words. It is also already likely to be as controversial as his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, and will no doubt be likewise subjected to misinterpretation and even misrepresentation in both secular and even Catholic media.
Similar to other documents by Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia contains some genuinely eloquent and beautiful teachings that are likely to be severely overshadowed by the more debated and controversial elements. This is, of course, unfair to both the pope and the document, but this is also Francis’ consistent pattern, and he seems comfortable with the risks.
A survey of previous apostolic exhortations — especially from the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — reveals that Amoris Laetitia is highly unusual in the degree to which Francis quotes and relies on the final reports of the two synods in 2014 and 2015. Popes typically receive a final report or relatio from a concluded synod and use it as a springboard for reflection on the specific topic. John Paul II, for example, crafted his response to the 1980 synod on the family with his famed apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio that relied less on the synod relatio and more on the documents of the Second Vatican Council, on his own extensive writings on the family and on Scripture.
In this new exhortation, Francis relies on Scripture and some conciliar documents and teachings of his predecessors, but the majority of his footnotes reveal a close consonance with the final reports from the 2014 and 2015 synods. This makes the exhortation a fair reflection of the tensions that existed in the gatherings in Rome over the previous two years even as it migrates into the exhortation many of the strengths and ambiguities of the original reports.
Pastoral Care and Doctrinal Clarity
For anyone who followed the labors of the bishops’ synods in 2014 and 2015, the debates and discussions were marked by rancor and what seemed at times to be a great struggle between those Church leaders who defended authentic teaching and the smaller number of progressive bishops and cardinals who were in favor of loosening the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist for the divorced and civilly remarried and toleration of same-sex unions and cohabitation. It was pastoral practice versus unbending dogma.
Read more at Our Sunday Visitor.