‘Amoris Laetitia’: Bishop discusses Pope’s ‘The Joy of Love’ document



Dialog Editor


Pope Francis’ new document on family life calls for the church to be a welcoming place for all its people, Bishop Malooly said this week.

Francis continues his ongoing theme in the “apostolic exhortation,” issued April 8, that the church, from its bishops to its priests and other leaders, must accompany families in their lives.

The pope’s emphasis to church leaders is “on being shepherds for the sheep,” Bishop Malooly said. Shepherds who accompany families “support them no matter what the circumstances, to make people feel welcomed by the church.”

The document, “‘Amoris Laetitia’ (“The Joy of Love”) on Love in the Family,” contains the pope’s summary and his comments on discussions of family life at 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops conducted at the Vatican.

Pope Francis was present for the discussions by bishops at those meetings on how the church can best serve its people.

Bishop Malooly (www.donblakephotography.com)
Bishop Malooly (www.donblakephotography.com)

Bishop Malooly sees the pope’s continuing call to the new evangelization in “Amoris Laetitia.”

“It’s no more complex than [the church] having a welcoming person and being a place that people want to come to,” he said.

Personal attention, sharing people’s faith journey, is Francis’ point, the bishop said.

He noted that Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, sees the document as the pope’s asking clergy to get to know each individual’s circumstances to help people discern God’s teaching and his leading for their lives.

Pope Francis, “appropriately,” throws that mission “back in our laps, myself and my brother priests,” Bishop Malooly said, “even with all the stress and strain we have with … trying to find time to be able to deal with so many individual circumstances, because each of those persons is very important,” Bishop Malooly said.

The pope’s message in the exhortation “jumps over the Vatican, bishops’ conferences and individual dioceses” sending it “right to pastors and priests,” he added.

collage3The pope, as always, “is putting more work on the priests,” the bishop said. But, “it’s what he does; it’s how he lives. It’s a vocation. Each of us has to put a lot of time into doing what we have to do.”

While some observers anticipated the pope would tinker with church doctrines in his exhortation, Bishop Malooly said Francis stayed true to church teaching and traditions.

“With marriage, it’s very clear,” the bishop said. “It’s indissoluble; it’s sacramental; it’s for the transmission of life and the education of children.”

But when family problems arise, “we have to try pastorally to respond and help the person,” the bishop said. “Maybe we can’t ‘fix’ the sacrament or bond, but we can at least respond to the person.”

The pope’s exhortation “is asking us how can we help them make marriage better,” the bishop said, noting the pope encourages the church to follow up with couples after their marriage and asks dioceses to ensure good marriage-preparation courses.

How to get young people to stay involved with the church either before or after marriage is a hard question, the bishop admitted. But, “if it’s one on one, a priest and a couple, and he’s inviting them, that’s probably what it comes down to.”

Pope Francis is asking church leaders to develop an “attitude of accompaniment,” Bishop Malooly said.

The bishop said that the pope is “trying to help us see things in a positive and upbeat light, even the negative things like divorce or dysfunction in a family. He wants us to try to turn it into a direction where people can find some peace and meaning in the midst of the difficulty.”

Oblate Father Mark Mealey, the head of the diocesan Marriage Tribunal, is familiar with Catholic marriages that have ended in divorce, followed by people applying for annulments. He told The Dialog last week that Pope Francis wrote about “irregular unions” and that “we have to be sensitive to those kinds of situations.”’

The sensitivity the pope suggests, Father Mealey said, is in “continuity with church tradition.” The document is “very solid” theologically and is in continuity with the pope’s previous apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).

In discussing “troubled marriages,” Father Mealey said the pope calls for a renewal of the marriage-preparation process and he also asks pastors to minister to people in “irregular unions” — living together before marriage, married outside the church, remarried without an annulment — with sensitivity. “It’s not one answer fits all of these, but in a journey of accompaniment and companionship to being with them and help them through this difficult situation.”

“Amoris Laetitia” doesn’t refer specifically to same-sex unions, Father Mealey said, “but it’s in there in the title ‘irregular kind of unions.’”

When the pope emphasizes a sensitive, pastoral approach in sections of the document, he also “verifies the teaching on marriage is maintained,” Father Mealey said.

Pope Francis is “working with people where they are and … journeying with them to bring them to a fuller understanding of the church,” the judicial vicar said.

That understanding of the church includes many references to the “magisterium” of the church, Father Mealey noted. The pope often quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Paul II and church documents.

From the perspective of the Marriage Tribunal, Father Mealey sees Pope Francis asking the church to help people in an “ongoing kind of spiritual formation… spending time with people to see what their concerns are and what options are open to them.”

The new annulment norms the pope implemented last December, which in the diocese have taken the average time for a decision from a year and a half to about six to seven months, were a prelude to the pope’s emphasis on a pastoral approach to families in the new document, Father Mealey said.

“It tells you basically where [the pope is] going in this whole spirituality of accompaniment, dialogue and pastoral relationship.”

Taking the two Synod of Bishops discussions on the challenges facing modern families, Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia” basically updates the Second Vatican Council’s “Gaudium et Spes” (“Joys and Hopes”), said Father Mealey.

That document examined “the signs of the times” in 1965 “to recognize and understand the world in which we live.”

Pope Francis new document looks at the world half a century later, discussing drugs, human trafficking, violence, technology and other problems, and interprets those challenges in light of the Gospel.

Bishop Malooly, in noting that Pope Francis calls for church doctrine to be a road map for pastoral ministry, said Jesus employed a similar style of reminding people of the law with love.

“You don’t have to go far in any of the Gospels and he’s meeting with sinners. He’s got a tax collector there. He’s with the lepers. Jesus is always reaching out to anyone in need.”