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"A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just." - Pope Francis, 17 March 2013

Moral and Pastoral Approach of Amoris Laeititia

by Dr. George Therukaattil MCBS 

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In the introductory paragraphs of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love and Family, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis plainly sets out his moral and pastoral approach.[1]  He asks the Church to meet people where they are - to accept them in the concrete circumstances and complexities of their lives. He pleads the Church to respect people’s consciences and their discernment in moral decisions and underscores the importance of considering norms and mitigating circumstances in pastoral discernment.

The Apostolic Exhortation is mainly a document that reflects on family life and encourages family persons in their struggle to be faithful to the Lord. But it is also the Pope’s reminder that the Church should avoid simply judging people and imposing rules on them without considering their struggles. The goal of the Exhortation is to help families—in fact, everyone—experience being touched by an unmerited, unconditional, gratuitous mercy of God and know that they are welcome in the Church.

In the introduction of the Exhortation itself Pope Francis makes it clear that although unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary for the Church, it does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.[2] In his address at the end of the Synod of the 2015, he also drew attention to different contexts where what is lawful in one place is deemed outside the law in another. “What seems normal for a bishop on one continent is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.” [3]

Stating this, the Pope referred to declarations of his predecessors, included the contributions of Synods on the family held in 2014 and 2015 and also quoted a number of declarations of bishops’ conferences of various countries for references.[4] Using insights from the Synod of Bishops on the Family and from Bishops’ Conferences from around the world, Pope Francis affirms Church teaching on family life and marriage and strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment, urging the Church to appreciate the context of people’s lives when helping them make good decisions”[5]

Though much of AL incorporated “the propositions voted upon by the Bishops at both 2014 and 2015 Synods as much as possible, as we see from the abundant references he makes to them in the footnotes of AL”,[6] Pope Francis calls his pastoral and moral approach as something new with regard to the pastoral practice in the way pastoral care is to be extended as help and encouragement to those in difficult marital situations or in irregular unions and to families in their daily commitments and challenges.[7] The Pope asks for a compassionate pastoral concern to such persons since they continue to be members of the Church and brothers and sisters of God’s household. In addition he encourages everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy.[8] In addition to these, the introductory section of Amoris Laetitia’s significant account and vision of conscience and communal discernment (including more input and collaboration from the laity) on moral matters that is consistent with the exhortation’s pastoral practice mentioned above. Further, Pope Francis’ call in his Evangelii Gaudium for “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets,” suggest that the moral and pastoral practice of the Church should be more attentive to the realities and complexities of life in the concrete rather than in the abstract.[9] “The result is a challenging reappraisal that expects moral theologians to promote a genuine culture of discernment in the church.”[10]  

Details of Pope Francis’ new moral and pastoral approach can be seen especially in Chapters Six and Eight of Amoris Laetitia. In Chapter Six one can see the Pope’s pastoral perspectives (AL199-258) and in Chapter Eight he writes about the need of accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness (AL 291-312).

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[1] Amoris Laetitia (hereafter AL) AL 3

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pope Francis’ Address at the end of the Synod of Bishops 2015

[4] Episcopal conferences of Spain, Korea, Argentina, Mexico, Columbia, Chile, Australia, Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, Italy and Kenya

[5] AL 199

[6]  Vimal Tirimanna, “Two Critical Questions Frequently Asked About Amoris Laetitia”  in VJTR, 80, 2016, pp. 919-920

[7] AL 4

[8] AL 5

[9] AL 3

[10] Conor M. Kelly, “The Role of the Moral Theologian in the Church: A Proposal in Light of Amoris Laetitia” in Theological Studies, 2016, Vol.77(4), p.923.

Why I support Pope Francis

He is a man of mercy and goodness, exemplifying and preaching a Jesus who is the same.

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