14 April 2016, The Tablet

Compassion is this pastor’s watchword


Some analysts are saying that it changes nothing. Some are saying it changes everything. Can both views of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family relationships be right?

Now that the text has been pored over line by line, and the analysts and theologians and bishops around the world are pronouncing their judgements, it is becoming clear that Pope Francis’ eagerly anticipated document on the family has sowed the seeds for major changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

His post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia does not explicitly change doctrine – it was never expected that it would – but instead it insists that church teaching be applied case by case to individual situations. With this crucial principle the Pope has re-opened the possibility for Communion to be given to divorced and remarried Catholics in some circumstances. And the same principle also opens up the possibility that there may be a path back to the full practice of their faith for other couples in situations that fall short of Church teaching.

For Francis, it was the desire to “reinstate” those who feel alienated from the Church that led him to convene a Synod of Bishops on the Family in the first place. The synod, which has been as much about the process of how the Church discusses and decides key issues  as the issues themselves, unofficially started in February 2014 when the reform-minded German cardinal, Walter Kasper, was asked by Francis to address a meeting of his peers on how remarried divorcees might be given the sacraments.

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