WASHINGTON - Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on love and
the family invites the church to see the daily struggles of
families as an opportunity to encounter people the way Jesus
encountered people with mercy throughout his life, Catholic
Because of its length - 256 pages - and the depth to which
the pope explores love, marriage and church teaching on the
family, the document deserves to be unpacked with patience
and careful discernment for mercy to take root in the
church's response to real human needs, Catholic leaders said.
The exhortation, "Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love),
on Love in the Family," was Pope Francis' reflection on the
discussion, debate and suggestions raised during the 2014 and
2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops on the family.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted Pope Francis'
repeated calls of the importance of clergy taking time to get
to know individual circumstance and discuss with people how
they can discern God's teaching for their lives.
The pope points to "dialogue, which requires both speaking
and listening, and discerning to help people see what their
next step is" as key to his call for mercy, Archbishop Kurtz,
a member of both synods, said in an interview after
participating in an online news conference at USCCB
The archbishop said the pope is attempting to help people
encounter Jesus and through that encounter feel the love of
God. "There is that sense of being very intentional because
we carry with us the capacity to walk with people to Christ.
And he's saying husbands and wives, you also have that
potential," Archbishop Kurtz said.
"We all share that responsibility to conversion about what
does it mean to deepen our sense and let Christ shine more
clearly through so people don't see the rule (of the church),
they see the person of Jesus coming through," he explained.
During the news conference, Archbishop Kurtz described the
exhortation as a "love letter to families" that invites all
people to "never stop growing in love."
"It is also a love letter calling the church, the family of
God, to realize more and more her mission to live and love as
a family," he said.
Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chairman of the
bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family, Life and
Youth, said the exhortation invites the church to heal wounds
that families experience because of poverty, human
trafficking, immigration, domestic violence and pornography.
"We also have room to grow and improve and we welcome the
pope's encouragement for the renewed witness to the truth and
beauty of marriage of a more tender closeness and families
who are experiencing real difficulties," Bishop Malone said.
Both prelates said the exhortation builds on the teaching of
the Second Vatican Council as well as Pope Francis'
post-conciliar successors, Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II
and Pope Benedict XVI and invites ministers to welcome people
who may have turned away from the church because they feared
their status - as single parents, those with same-sex
attraction, or being divorced and civilly remarried - would
mean they are unwelcome in the church.
"I think the call is for the whole church, the bishops, the
priests, the lay leadership, but also each family to be able
to say 'God has given me such beauty in my family and things
with his help can be much more.' I think that's what he is
talking about the grace that is at work in each one of our
lives," Archbishop Kurtz said in response to a question.
Helen Alvare, professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law
School at George Mason University, who was the third news
conference participant, described the document as balancing
the natural longing for marriage in society with a "raw
appreciation for how bad the situation can be on the ground."
The pope acknowledges misperceptions about church teaching on
sex, that some perceive marriage as evil so avoid it, the
fear of raising children, and ideas that marriage has become
an "empty ritual," Alvare said.
She also identified the pope's deep concerns for children,
whose rights often are overlooked because of the challenges
facing many families.
Meanwhile, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, a member of
both synods, said that with the huge number of references in
the document to the two synods, "it's clear that Pope Francis
is trying to insert in the mainstream of Catholic theological
thought and tradition the expressions of the challenges that
the bishops say they are facing and what the bishops brought
to this whole discussion."
"I don't find anything surprising" in the document, he said
during a break from meetings in Rome, "but I welcome its
welcoming tone addressed to everyone. He's saying: 'This is
the faith of the church. Yes, it's difficult to live. Yes, we
know we don't all live it as fully as we should. But we are
still all part of God's family, God loves us and we have to
be making our way together."
"It's a beautiful apostolic exhortation because it doesn't
say, 'Here are the answers to everything.'"
On the situation of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics,
the document "starts with this beautiful reminder, 'You're
still part of the family.'"
The document, he said, invites the divorced and civilly
remarried to acknowledge church teaching on the
indissolubility of marriage and to honestly examine their
situation and discover how they can grow closer to Christ.
"I don't see anything in the document that changes much of
what we're already doing in pastoral practice and that is you
meet with people, you try to help them address their lived
situation," he said. "We're not changing anything (in church
teaching), but we're not saying, 'because you're not perfect,
this is no longer your home.'"