21 August 2018, The Tablet

Pope says his family life document must be read as part of constantly 'maturing' Church doctrine


'The Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is a unified whole, which means that it must be read in its entirety and from the beginning'


Pope says his family life document must be read as part of constantly 'maturing' Church doctrine

Pope Francis blesses a family at the end of his weekly general audience
Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

In the preface to a new book the Pope argues that “Amoris Laetitia” is in keeping with an understanding of Catholic tradition which develops in continuity with the past, a point he made when announcing the recent shift in Church teaching against the death penalty. 

Francis made his remarks in a new book, “Pope Francis, The Family, And Divorce”, written by Stephen Walford, a British theologian and self-described conservative Catholic who is a prominent defender of "Amoris Laetitia." 

The Pope's apostolic exhortation, written following two global gatherings of the world’s bishops, has sparked intense opposition in some Church circles including a public challenge from four cardinals who have demanded a clarification from Francis for opening up the possibility of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.  

“Over the course of the Exhortation, current and concrete problems are dealt with: the family in today’s world, the education of children, marriage preparation, families in difficulty, and so on; these are treated with a hermeneutic that comes from the whole document which is the magisterial hermeneutic of the Church, always in continuity (without ruptures), yet always maturing,” the Pope writes in the book, which is being released next week. 

Francis stresses that his document must be read in its entirety, that it follows the “classical doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas” and should not be used as a 'vade mecum'meaning like a handbook or manual with pre-prepared answers.  

“The Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is a unified whole, which means that, in order to understand its message, it must be read in its entirety and from the beginning. This is because there is a development both of theological reflection and of the way in which problems are approached,” the Pope explains. 

He stresses the whole synod process was a “desire to seek God’s will in order to better serve the Church” and something which took place “through reflection, the exchange of views, prayer, and discernment. There were of course temptations during this journey but the Good Spirit prevailed.”

"Amoris Laetitia” was subject to an extraordinary public challenge by four cardinals - two of whom are now deceased - in November 2016 when they submitted a series of questions, known as “dubia”. Other groups of traditional Catholics have accused Francis of allowing the spread of heresy and released what they described as a "filial correction" to the Pope's teaching.  

While Francis has not responded to the dubia, one of his closest aides, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, writes in the the new book's about how "Amoris Laetitia" has been misinterpreted by solely focussing on divorced and remarried Catholics. 

“We have seen with sadness that some Catholics and even bishops and cardinals have not read it completely and have focused solely on the eighth chapter,” the Honduran Cardinal, who is the co-ordinator of the Pope’s council of cardinal advisers writes in the book’s introduction. 

“As is often the case, many simply follow media commentaries, or read articles published by others, instead of going directly to the text. We have even seen the publication of some doubts, ‘dubia,’ signed by four cardinals of our Church.”

Walford’s book, the cardinal explains, looks into how the Church should respond to the crises and difficulties facing marriage across the world.  

“It is concerned with the pastoral care of couples in irregular situations, like that of the divorced and remarried, challenging the reader to leave the comfort zone of general rules and discipline,” Cardinal Rodriguez writes. 

A married father-of-five who lives in Southampton and teaches the piano, Walford has written other books including one on the saints and met the Pope in July 2017 for 45 minutes in the Vatican with his wife and children.

He says he entered into the debate over "Amoris Laetitia" after reading an article on Catholic news site Crux from the Canon Lawyer, Dr Edward Peters, on divorced and remarried Catholics which Walford said was a “virtuoso display of scolding and correction.”

Walford explains: "I wanted to explore several areas that were interconnected: the correct concept of Tradition as something alive and active now, two thousand years after Christ; the historical case of how the Church had at times utilised the internal forum for these cases; the role of conscience and canon law.” 

He went on: “I began to notice on various Catholic websites, forums, and blogs, Catholics similar to me—those who have always accepted papal teaching, understood the reforms of Vatican II, and recognised the need for pastoral sensitivity in todays’ wounded world—who were being swayed by the angry rhetoric of some dissenters of the papal magisterium.”

The 212-page book examines the Church’s pastoral response to marriage and family in the light of recent papal documents, scripture and the development of tradition. The author pays particular attention to the theology of Cardinal John Henry Newman and St. Vincent of Lérins, the fifth-century Gallic monk and theologian who has been cited by Francis when he announced the Church would firm up its opposition to the death penalty. 

“The Church now has at its disposal a magisterial document that rightly looks in the eye of each person and says ‘I will walk with you,’ Mr Walford says of "Amoris Laetitia". “It seems to me that this is the message the Holy Spirit would like engrained in our hearts as we proceed forward in the years ahead as the one family of God.” 


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