Amoris Laetitia, which contains not only the final report of the two synods, but also numerous citations from documents of the Magisterium on the family, has caused conflicting reactions both inside and outside the Church. On the one hand it was heavily criticized by Archbishop Fellay, Msgr. Lefebvre’s faithful successor, who defined the document as a “terrifying” text because of the possibility it introduces for some divorced and remarried to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. He described this act as “very serious” and “heretic”. But on the other hand, some Protestant churches reacted with joy. They are happy with this Exhortation, which remains essentially loyal and coherent with the document of the Magisterium of the Church.
It is comprehensible that against the debate in the public opinion, the media have focused on specific parts of the text. Nonetheless, we have to point out that this document – as any other text of the Magisterium – cannot be reduced to a single topic because when one talks about the family, what is at stake is the very concept of humanity.
Associations, movements, and different Catholic organizations have hailed with great enthusiasm this exhortation, praising Pope Francis’s work. “A great Christian symphony, but also a calm awareness of the fact that the answer to the challenges of our time and to the degradation of the family cannot be overcome ‘just insisting on doctrinal, bioethical, and moral issues,’” – says Gian Luigi Gigli, president of the Italian Movement for Life. “The Apostolic Exhortation – Gigli explains – comprises all the issues that constitute the core of Movement for Life’s efforts.”
Beppe Elia, President of Ecclesial Movement for Cultural Endeavor, “Pope Francis has challenged the whole Church to look at conjugal love and family with hope, with a spirit of openness and joy, rather than with concern for the social and cultural climate we live in.” According to others, “the Exhortation encourages discernment, mercy, and ecclesial integration of the divorced and remarried, people who are in a civil marriage or live together, and other categories of persons in whom the ‘smoldering wick’, which is still alive, of the Grace of God can be revived.”
Also a prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria answered with a comment posted on Opusdei.it. He expresses his desire for “all the faithful of the Prelature and friends to stay by Pope Francis’s side with an abundance of prayers for his person and his intentions, so that everyone – with the help of the Holy Spirit – learns to stand more and more by the families’ side. The Exhortation relaunches family ministry and reminds us about the central role of the families in the new evangelization and in building our society.”
Whereas in the Catholic world Amoris Laetitia has provoked more or less positive reactions, there are also negative opinions towards this papal document, defined as “catastrophic” by some people.
The historian Roberto de Mattei reminds that “public and private interventions by cardinals and bishops to the Pope have increased in the weeks before the post-synodal Exhortation, so as to prevent the publication of a document full of errors, detected by the numerous amendments the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made to the draft. Everyone was waiting for the answer to a basic question: can those who remarry civilly after a first marriage receive the sacrament of the Eucharist? The Church’s answer to this question has always been a categorical ‘‘no’’. The divorced and remarried cannot receive communion because their condition of life objectively contradicts the natural and Christian truth concerning marriage, signified by the Eucharist and realized in it.” De Mattei noted that the response of the post-synodal Exhortation is instead: “In general no, but sometimes yes. The divorced and remarried in fact need to be integrated and not excluded.”
Sandro Magister, journalist for Espresso shares this opinion. His article on the weekly reads: “Amoris Laetitia. Mercy for everyone, except for obedient children.” The reflection of the journalist assumes that this document is the “triumph of casuistry. With the feeling, at the end of the reading, that every sin is excused. There are many mitigating factors, hence it vanishes, leaving room for grasslands of grace also in the context of objectively serious ‘irregularities’. “It raises a question: ‘What about those who have obeyed the Church so far and recognized themselves in the wisdom of its teaching? Those divorced and remarried who showed so much good will for years or decades, praying, going to Mass, giving their children Christian education, and practicing charity, despite being in a second marriage which is different from the sacramental one, without taking communion? What about those who have agreed to live ‘like brother and sister’, no longer in contradiction with the previous indissoluble marriage, and were able thus to receive the Eucharist? What about all those people after the ‘all free’ so many people saw in Amoris Laetitia?”
However, also in Magister’s opinion,” read as a whole, Amoris Laetitia can give rise to generally positive reviews, even by analysts who have not withheld their criticism against some manifestations of impatience of the two synods on the family”.
There are also those who say that the Pope, instead of “confirming in faith”, “confuses and destabilizes” Catholics. Such is the case of Antonio Socci who considers this exhortation to be misleading. According to the columnist, the use of ambiguous language has allowed all newspapers to come up with titles like “Sacraments for the remarried, the Pope opens.” “Why does Bergoglio not order Father Lombardi to deny this interpretation of the newspapers, considering that he sends him hastily to deny banal gossip about his physical health? Is defending faith from misrepresentation not more important that denying health problems?”
Socci claims that “in order to be able to say – using words – that the doctrine has not changed, the Pope should have reminded somehow the condition on which the Church has allowed the remarried to receive communion until now: they had to live like brother and sister”. The journalist points out that the Pope does “not mention this rule in the text, relegating it to a footnote instead (Nr 329). He also notes that the Pope demolishes it right afterwards, saying that without certain ‘intimacy’ ‘faithfulness’ would be compromised”.
Here, according to Socci, one can deduce that for Francis “there is no more difference between families and irregular couples, in fact there are no more irregular situations and it is no longer possible to say that it is a mortal sin in itself. This is the decisive point. “Sins would be “declassified” and instead of the couples who live “in a state of mortal sin”, would be admonished “families who close up in their own convenience.”
However, we should remember that these days, “talking about the family and to families, bearing in mind the importance of the principles to be applied, without ever failing to dialogue and to apply the concept of discernment, without ever taking for granted the formulation a truth – says Roberto Cogliandro, president of the Italian Catholic Notaries – is the great challenge of a pontificate ready to the challenges of the society to the Church and to the Christian community.” This is a consideration many critics have evidently forgotten to make.