April 2016 will go down in history as the month of “Amoris Laetitia” (that’s Latin for “The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis’ 50,000+ word statement on a variety of hot button social issues facing today’s world. It includes commentary on issues like abortion, euthanasia, same-sex ‘marriage’, divorce, pornography, artificial reproductive technologies, gender theory, co-habitation, internal family strife, and many other polarizing topics. So what does it all mean for Chicago Catholics? Let’s take a look.
For starters, both conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics often argued that Pope Francis is some kind of “radical” reformer who would make massive changes to the Church’s teachings on gay rights and so on. A quick read thru “Amoris Laetitia” proves this is not the case. In “Amoris Laetitia”, Pope Francis upholds traditional Catholic teachings on issues like abortion and gay marriage. What he does, however, is update those statements so they can be understood in the context of today’s culture. Social liberals who insist that Pope Francis is on their side on many controversial moral battles waging together today either do not understand his statements, or are simply lying about them. Social conservatives who claim Pope Francis is a “false Pope” who has “betrayed” Catholics on these issues likewise seem to suffer from the same tunnel vision. Here are some brief summaries of where Pope Francis stands in Amoris Latetia:
- On Homosexuality:
Pope Francis believes Catholics are called to respect and tolerate those who publicly state they have a same-sex attraction. He quotes the the Catechism of the Catholic Church in re-affirming that “every sign of unjust discrimination” based upon sexual orientation is to “be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence”. Pope Francis believes those who identify as homosexual “can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”
- On Same sex “marriage”:
Pope Francis makes it clear that the Catholic Church cannot and will not ever accept the possibility of gay marriage. In paragraph 251 of Amoris Laetitia, he writes: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. He also notes “It is unacceptable” for local Churches to be subjected to pressure to “marry” couples of the same sex, and that he strongly opposes withdrawing financial aid to poor countries until they establish laws to legalize ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.
- On Divorce
Pope Francis notes that the Catholic Church still opposes the concept of divorce, believing that in many cases it is an “objective situation of sin” and the person getting the divorce may be “subjectively culpable, or fully such”. At the same time, he does not believe that a divorced person, solely because of they happen to have been granted a divorce, should automatically be excluded from the sacraments or participation in church life. He believes that thee are certain cases where a divorced person may be eligible to receive sacraments, and cites both Confession and Holy Communion as examples, saying “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” He notes that both sacraments are not “a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
- On Fluid gender theories:
Pope Francis forcefully condemns so-called “gender ideology” in Amoris Laetitia – denouncing the idea that there are no intrinsic differences between men and women, and that one can be whatever gender they mentally wish to be. He writes that thinking that we enjoy “absolute power over our own bodies” leads to the delusion that “we enjoy absolute power over creation.” Pope Francis writes “An appreciation of our body as male or female [is] necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves.”
- On Artificial reproductive technologies:
The Pope makes a clear statement in paragraph 56 re-affirming that the Catholic Church opposes artificial reproductive technologies. He notes: “It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift.”
- On Abortion
Pope Francis speaks about abortion in paragraph 83, reminding all Catholics that abortion is considered a grave sin and murder by the Catholic Church. He notes: “Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed…so great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being.”
- On Euthanasia
Pope Francis writes “The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. Consequently, ‘those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection. Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia”. He also denounces population control, noting: “Such measures are unacceptable even in places with high birth rates, yet also in countries with disturbingly low birth rates we see politicians encouraging them.”
Overall, Pope Francis document addresses numerous topics being hotly debated in today’s society, while at the same time he draws on the statements of past Popes, synods, and councils, to re-affirm the Catholic Church’s unchanging message. Among the sources he draws from are The Synod on the Family, the ”Humanae Vitae” Encyclical of Blessed Pope Paul VI, the speeches of Pope John Paul II, and even citing secular sources like the American College of Pediatricians opposition to transgender ideology being promoted to teach contemporary ideas of fluid sexual identity among children, where they argue it is tantamount to child abuse.
Agree or disagree with Pope Francis, anyone who claims his comments are unclear – or that he has a radical leftist social outlook – is distorting his views or simply not paying attention. Pope Francis has provided a clear blueprint of where he stands. Maybe we should try listening to it.