Apparently it is a fairly big deal in Catholicism when the Pope makes any kind of official proclamation, or as the Vatican calls them “apostolic exhortations.” The current Pope Francis has made quite a name for himself as a “reformer” even though there has been absolutely no official or unofficial reformation during his short tenure.
Still, with a former Fox News public relations guru on the payroll, masses of people labor under the misguided belief that the Holy Father is making the kind of changes necessary to bring the archaic organization out of the Dark Ages and into the 21st Century. That is just not the case.
According to the Roman Catholic Church, yesterday (Friday) Pope Francis laid down some council on family life with an “apostolic exhortation.” Namely, that the clergy should be more welcoming and less judgmental. That exhortation should not be considered new or reformative for a religion founded on Jesus Christ’s teachings, but it obviously fit in with the Pope’s 256-page “apostolic exhortation on family life” he titled, “Amoris Laetitia;” Latin for the Joy of Love.
Religious scholars claim the Pope did enact one reform when he “seemingly signaled” a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion. The Pope also called on priests to start welcoming single parents, gay people, and unmarried straight couples who cohabitate; apparently those three groups were officially unwelcome by the Catholic Church or there would have been no need for the Pope to issue an official exhortation “to priests to welcome people” who want to worship in the Catholic faith.
The Pope wrote that, “A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” And yet, the Pope seemingly threw a stone or two of his own when he slammed the door on same-sex marriages he says can never be considered equal to opposite sex unions. All while insisting in the 256-page “Joy of Love” document that the church has to start being more welcoming and less judgmental.
The document really offers no new rules or reforms any normal person would consider even marginally noteworthy. However, to assuage any fears among the church leaders who are homophobes, misogynists, and especially the patriarchs in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Francis made it abundantly clear that there will be no new “top-down edicts” coming and no real church reforms. Just more Jesus talk about the poor people the Pope is doing little to help beside point out that like the Vatican, other extremely rich people and organizations are hoarding billions in wealth.
Thus far Francis has earned a reputation as a reformer for talking like the entity he represents on Earth, Jesus Christ. But that has been the extent of his “reformation;” talking about and condemning other extremely wealthy people not sharing their riches with the poor.
If any “liberal” Catholics expected real reform with this “apostolic exhortation” they are going to be disappointed. Anyone hoping that Pope Francis might go farther and at least make changes to the archaic ban on contraception, accept same-sex couples like Jesus would have, or expand the roles for women in the church are asking for way too much reform. The best the Pope could come up with is “encouraging church priests to work with divorced and remarried Catholics to help them return to full standing in the church” so they can once again take communion.
A scholar of Catholicism in Rome, Lucetta Scaraffia, said the 256-page Papal proclamation “wasn’t as innovative as many had hoped. The result is quite modest with respect to the investment and expectations that the world had.” Still, as “modest” as the reformation really is, experts believe the document will incite disagreement among many Catholics trying to understand how priests are supposed to work with divorced and remarried Catholics to “help them” return to the church with “full standing.”
The reaction from the “liberal and conservative” factions in the Church could not have possibly been different. The Jesuit editor at large for America magazine, the Rev. James Martin, offered glowing praise for the Papal message to be welcoming and non-judgmental; especially for divorced and remarried Catholic devotees. Martin said the Pope’s exhortation;
“Restores the role of personal conscience and reminds pastors to meet people where they are. It will be a great encouragement especially to divorced and remarried Catholics and anyone who feels they have been unwelcome in the church. The message is: Welcome.”
Conservative Catholics, however, have already expressed major concern that Pope Francis could destabilize the church and undermine Holy doctrine by asking priest to be more welcoming and less judgmental; they were duly unimpressed. The Catholic theologian and editor of a conservative journal about getting religion into public life (read the government), R. R. Reno said he was disappointed with the Pope and
“lamented that a muddy document substitutes the church’s ‘rules and laws and requirements’ with talk about ideals and values. It’s an ill-judged shift. This document clearly opens up the possibility that a priest may determine that a divorced and remarried person is worthy to receive communion.”
The key takeaway in Reno’s comment is that besides having an issue with how to work with divorced and remarried Catholics, the ideals and values preached by Jesus Christ apparently conflict with “the Catholic Church’s rules and laws and requirements.” Not to worry though, the Pope’s special dispensation on the Joy of Love was not a Papal edict; it was just an “apostolic exhortation” and not a church “rule, law, or official requirement.”
Maybe Catholics who are divorced or remarried are celebrating the Joy of Love for opening up the “possibility” that a priest may allow them to take communion, but there is precious little for anyone else. The Pope still hews closely to the anti-women rules in the 1968 Humanae Vitae, and still considers same-sex marriage wrong. He also still will not follow his own, Jesus’ exhortation to the rich to divest all their wealth and belongings and give it the proceeds to the poor.
This Pope may be progressive and a reformer; a lot of people certainly embrace the public relations campaign saying that he is. But until he actually issues official edicts that help the Church progress out of the Dark Ages, and reforms its “rules and laws and requirements” to truly be more welcoming and less judgmental” to all human beings, the Joy of Love is little more than a nice name for a romantic comedy; it is certainly no kind of Papal reformation.