For two years, Catholics have anticipated Amoris Laetitia. Nobody expected it would actually open the door to same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, but many hoped it would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to openly receive the sacrament of Holy Communion.
In the way Francis weighs his options and considers various points of view before making any decision, he reminds me of The Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye. Torn between family and tradition, the farmer gives in to his daughters’ wishes until he is pushed to the wall over something he can’t accept. Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy Of Love”)—is where Pope Francis seems to have hit just such a wall.
Early on, in Section 2, Francis sets out his guiding principle:
The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.
In the next section, the pope reminds us that not everything needs to be resolved by the Magisterium, and that interpretations of authority can vary. He also says this about diversity:
Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.
In Section 6, Francis offers a preview of his conclusion:
Finally, I will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral discernment of those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us.
This is a gathering of dark clouds. Is he going to say that my same-sex marriage falls short of what is demanded by the Lord?
The first chapter is a whirlwind tour of all the biblical references to family that resonate with this pope. Does he skirt any references to gay marriage? Of course not, because that institution did not exist when this stuff was written. Yes, King David loved Jonathan “as his own soul,” but we don’t find their wedding in scripture. Instead, we get from scripture only David’s Amoris Laetitia—his joy of love.
In the second chapter, Pope Francis notes that families have changed. Spouses now share more responsibilities. He hits on his oft-repeated belief that in a marriage personalism is good, but individualism is bad. Also, he notes but offers no explanation for the decreasing number of marriages in many countries. I am glad to see that in Section 34 he understands this basic fact of contemporary western culture:
The ideal of marriage, marked by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome. The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals.
Pope Francis is right to wring his hands about the disposability to marriage these days. But then in Section 52 and onward, Francis makes it clear that same-sex unions are excluded from this “ideal,” when he slams the doors shut on LGBT Catholics over and over.
There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.
Sections 80 and 81 are a weird pretzel in which the pope dances in circles around conjugal acts, procreation, how children don’t come from the outside of a (hetero-normative) family, and how even couples that are childless can still be open to the “meaning” of procreation.
This is the kind of bad poetry that elderly celibates often produce. Skip this part or risk becoming infuriated by it.
In the sections that follow, he continues to wax on about what defines a good (and evidently hetero) marriage:
- In Section 125, Francis says that marriage is a “friendship marked by passion,” but he again refuses to look at how this very good definition might be applied to same-sex unions.
- Section 172 will offend same-sex couples with children. Here he writes that every child has a right to the distinct love of both a father and a mother, without which a child is just a “plaything.”
- In Sections 179 and 180, Francis praises the generosity of couples who adopt children, but he refuses to include same-sex couples in that praise.
For those waiting to hear what he has to say about the headline issue of divorced and remarried Catholics being barred from receiving Communion, he begins to “go there” when he condemns those who are judgmental and divisive, saying in Section 186,
When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily.
If that’s true, I know a planet full of popes, cardinals, bishops and priests who ought to be denied Communion!
Section 202 of the sixth chapter is eye-popping in that it is the first clear indication that Pope Francis is in favor of a married clergy. He says that pastors have shown a lack of understanding about married life because they are single, and that the married clergy of the eastern sects of Catholicism do a better job of it!
In the replies given to the worldwide consultation, it became clear that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families. The experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy could also be drawn upon.
While Pope Francis is on solid ground in Amoris Laetitia when he talks about the need for communication, respect, gratitude and courage in moments of crisis faced by husbands, wives and families, he does not apply any of that wisdom to same-sex couples. As Mary E. Hunt writes here on RD, he never deviates from the patriarchal ideal of “heteronormative uncontracepted sex in monogamous marriage.”
Sections 243 and 299 would also disappoint any divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion openly. Pope Francis says they should be treated with care and kindness and respect, but he stops short of giving them access to receiving Communion.
He offers the same condescension to LGBT Catholics in Section 250 when he says should be treated with care, kindness and respect, but stops short of offering marriage.
Section 251 puts the final nails into the coffin of Roman Catholic same-sex marriage:
In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homo- sexual 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”.
Rather than leaving bad enough alone, he takes a shot at the trans community in Section 258 when talking about how children ought to be taught to accept the bodies they are born with rather than play “creator” by making adjustments.
…the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of fear of being different, can we be freed of self- centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it”.
In Section 293, the pope reports that his bishops discussed their treatment of folks who are in civil—not sacramental—marriages or simply co-habitating. The bishops decided that it is preferable to try to make nice-nice with those couples only because they might eventually be enticed to convert their sinful unions into sacramental marriages. This obviously precludes any nice-nice making for same-sex couples because that door to sacramental marriage remains closed ever more firmly by dint of this document.
In Section 300 Francis even admits that there is nothing new in this Exhortation and that we shouldn’t have expected any rule changes from him or his bishops. After all, there’s only so much a pope can do, as Patti Miller explains on RD.
At the conclusion of the 261-page Amoris Laetitia, Francis says “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy.” I think he really believes that. Sadly, he cannot bring himself to practice what he preaches. By not extending the sacrament of matrimony to all Catholics, he denies us the very compassion he extols so highly. For a man whose papacy has focused on the value of mercy, he seems content to rest on his laurels in Amoris Laetitia, saying much but changing nothing.