Pope Francis insisted that individual conscience be the guiding principle for Catholics negotiating the complexities of sex, marriage and family life, in a major document released yesterday that rejects the emphasis on black-and-white rules for the faithful.
The most divisive issue that arose during two meetings of bishops, or synods, was whether Francis would loosen the Vatican’s strict position on whether Catholics who divorce and remarry can receive Communion. Church teaching holds that unless these Catholics receive an annulment, or a church decree that their first marriage was invalid, they are committing adultery and cannot receive Communion.
Francis took a unilateral step last year in changing church law to make it easier to get an annulment. Yesterday, he said the rigorous response proposed by the conservatives was inconsistent with Jesus’ message of mercy.
By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God,” he said. “Let us remember that a small step in the midst of great human limitations can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.”
Francis cited his previous document, “The Joy of the Gospel,” in saying that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Of course caution is taken lest folks misjudge the Catholic Church to be now a rollickin’ anything-goes place. Nonetheless, the Pope’s exhortation is made in the spirit of Jesus’ own revolutionary teachings and actions: the stranger and migrant making rounds of the villages and towns, his choice of parents (they’re not married) and disciples (they’re mere fishermen), his reference to children as “first in the kingdom”, speaking alone with women especially women perceived to be of low morale, remaining silent in the face of insult and injury, and the like. The message was and still is, that the Catholic Church is a Church of the Poor.
Read the The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) here.