After much study and debate among the bishops, Pope Francis has issued a letter on the family entitled Amoris Laetitia (the joy of love). In wrestling with how to minister to gays, the problems of modern families in a time of sexual revolution, and whether or not to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, the Pope is characteristically unclear.
He upholds traditional morality, pro-life ethics, and historical Catholic teaching on the family, and yet he speaks much about “individual conscience” (which is usually problematic in Catholic theology) and pastoral discretion. As usual, his pronouncement is controversial and is being taken differently by all sides. (See this and this.)
The best thing I’ve read on the document is from Ross Douthat, who says that Catholics have been upholding doctrine (pleasing the conservatives) while allowing great flexibility in actual practice (pleasing the liberals). He says that what is new in Amoris Laetitia is that the Pope is giving official sanction to that separation of doctrine and practice.
I would add that this is not just a Catholic phenomenon. We certainly see this in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod when it comes to official insistence on, for example, closed communion, even as many congregations ignore that teaching in practice without any official consequences. (Can you think of other examples in non-Catholic churches?)
Is this a necessary accommodation in a fallen, complicated world? Or is it evidence that churches don’t really believe their own teachings? [Read more…]