Understanding Pope

Pope Francis’ long-awaited response to the work of the 2014 and 2015 Extraordinary Synods on the Family was finally released and, of course, many people have weighed in, almost immediately, on the document – some without actually reading what it says.

Some in the media, like William Saletan of Slate.com, irresponsibly stated as his headline: “Pope Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is a Closeted Argument for Gay Marriage.”

Others approached it from another perspective, like Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry’s “Some Hope But Not Much Joy for LGBT Catholics in Pope’s ‘Joy of Love’ Document.”

Still others feared that it was not doctrinal enough and everything in it needed complete and utter clarification. Some others, especially in the Catholic media, embraced uncritically everything that this apostolic exhortation stated, without any clarification.

A few things to grasp before any statement can be made from this newspaper on this post-synodal exhortation.

One needs to understand the theological method employed by a particular theologian before one can grasp the theology which he or she is mining from the fonts of revelation, namely sacred Scripture and sacred tradition, as well as how he or she views the lived experience of culture as a source of theology.

To address the first point, namely what is the pope’s theological method that he is employing in “Amoris Laetitia.” This is clearly laid out in “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Holy Father’s 2013 apostolic exhortation. In this document, which is really the key to understanding the mindset of Pope Francis, he lists several things that one must consider in order to grasp what it is that the pope is really saying: first, “Time is more important than space;” second, “unity prevails over conflict;” third, “realities are more important than ideas;” and fourth, “the whole is greater than the part.”

The document really is not a matter of moral or dogmatic theology, as one would expect, but actually a matter of fundamental and contextual theology.

Some of the more settled voices in the Church urged a reflective reading of “Amoris Laetitia,” including Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., who released in a statement:

“Amoris Laetitia is a serious and extensive reflection on Christian marriage. While it changes no Church teaching or discipline, it does stress the importance of pastoral sensitivity in dealing with the difficult situations many married couples today face. Pope Francis is skilled at analyzing the cultural forces that make Christian marriage a unique witness, and often a special challenge. His recognition of the importance of children and the value of adoption are great expressions of support for family life.

“Happily, the kind of pastoral discernment called for in Amoris Laetitia is already happening in many of our parish communities, and the Holy Father’s encouragement, coming just months after the World Meeting of Families, is a great gift.”

We urge readers to read the document and to pray over it.

We especially urge our priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders in the diocese to read the document before giving an interpretation to the faithful, and we urge them, if they do not understand a point of the document, to consult those who can help them to authentically interpret this document, namely the bishops and those theologians and canonists whom he consults.