Pope Francis released his document on marriage and the family on April 9 New Zealand time, following two gatherings of bishops and various lay persons and extensive consultation with
Catholics to discuss the challenges facing families.
The document, entitled Amoris Laetitia – the Joy of Love, signals the Pope’s vision for the Church as a family of families and reaffirms the welfare of the family as decisive for the future of every community and society at a time when individuals in personal and family life
are receiving less and less support from social structures than in the past.
Cardinal John Dew and Bishop Charles Drennan, who attended the most recent discussion with the Pope (with New Zealand lay people Sharron Coles and John Kleinsman), noted the merciful and pastoral emphasis that does not shy away from the complexities of the difficult
situations facing couples and families around the world.
Cardinal John Dew said: “I haven’t yet studied the document fully but already I get the sense that what Pope Francis is saying is coming out of a real and very grounded understanding of the difficulties that face families and that the wider Church family is the place where people
should find support and accompaniment through these times.”
Cardinal Dew said Pope Francis took particular care in talking about those who are divorced and now in new unions.
“He appeals to us all that they not be made to feel that they are excluded from the Church family. In particular, pastors and those involved in family ministries are reminded of their obligation to exercise careful discernment of situations and to avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of different situations as well as people’s differing degrees of responsibility. The emphasis is on showing love and tenderness and working to integrate all people into the Church community no matter what their situation.”
Bishop Charles Drennan, the Bishop of Palmerston North, noted that, “Pope Francis again appeals to the Church, and in a particular way to bishops and priests, that we be pastors of open hearts not closed minds. Church teaching on marriage and the family is upheld and beautifully expounded through a series of rich scriptural reflections. Then Francis says, let’s get this inspiring doctrine off the library shelf and into people’s living rooms because there we discover Church teaching is a service, not an imposition, an invitation, not a condemnation.”
“It is in the face to face encounter,” Bishop Drennan said, that the “crucial questions of language arise. Francis says that our theological and pastoral language must reach the hearts of young people in such a way that they take up the adventure of marriage.”
Bishop Drennan added: “Pope Francis is clear that marriage is a treasure for all
in society, including those for whom it will never be possible and also he urges us to value publicly the unique relationship that marriage is so that those who are living together will come to appreciate further the beauty of marriage and stable family life.”