Strength in Consistency

Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” was released one year ago this past week. The Church has been discussing it and debating it ever since.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., in a commentary offered in Crux, reminds readers and interpreters that this document is more than just one footnote. It has 325 paragraphs and it should, like all things, be read in the context in which and for which it is written, in order to be truly understood.

With “Amoris Laetitia” read in the context of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the fonts of Divine Revelation, as well as the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the consistent sacramental teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of Christian marriage, as well as a proper, Catholic understanding of conscience, it can be and should be understood as a sure teaching in the art of pastoral accompaniment.

Cardinal Wuerl sagely writes: “The exhortation does not create some sort of internal forum process in which a marriage can be annulled, or in which the objective moral order can be changed. Instead, the exhortation places greater emphasis on the role of the individual conscience in appropriating those moral norms in the person’s individual circumstances.”

This requires serious formation in many areas. First, it requires serious theological and pastoral formation for all our priests to understand a true Catholic conscience. Priests need to grasp exactly what the Church officially teaches on this matter, as well as understanding what the Church teaches about marriage and the Eucharist. Second, it requires married couples to learn this as well, especially in their Pre-Cana preparations.

With this in mind, all those involved in marriage preparation should seriously study the Catholic understanding of conscience, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1776-1802),Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes” (No. 16), and Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty, “Dignitatis Humanae” (Nos. 3 and 14).

Amoris Laetitia does not change anything in these clear teachings. To claim that it does misinterprets the exhortation and its purpose. However, it offers the Church a pastoral approach and a tool which can be used for each pastor of souls to act, in concert with the consistent teachings of the Church, to help in the strengthening of marriage and family life, and, ultimately, in the salvation of souls.