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Amoris Laetitia: papal document on love and the family goes easy on divorcees; rejects abortion and contraception

Despite inclusive language, the document also maintains the church's stance on gay marriage.

By Barbara Speed

At midday today, Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia, a document containing recent Catholic Church thinking on love and the family. 

It’s an “apostolic exhortation”, so not to be confused with a (more authoritative and weighty) papal encyclical, but it has been hotly anticipated thanks to its controversial subject matter. 

Exhortations are generally a round-up of recent Synod thinking, though following his last exhortation Francis was accused of introducing a distinctly “Marxist” spin of his own. As a result, some commentators were hoping that this release would be even more progressive – but they’re likely to be disappointed. I’ve summarised some key points below. 

No movement on contraception

Francis emphasises that sex should only be for procreation: “no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life.'”

This appears to draw back from Francis’s recent (rather exceptional) suggestion that contraception could be used to avoid pregnancy during the Zika virus outbreak. 

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…or abortion and euthanasia

Francis makes no allowances for abortion whatsoever in Amoris Laetitia. He even criticises the vocabulary of the pro-choice movement when he notes: “no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life” (emphasis mine). 

The pope also criticises state action on abortion and contraception:

The Church strongly rejects the forced State intervention in favour of contraception, sterilization and even abortion. 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.

Elsewhere, he cites euthanasia and assisted dying as “serious threats to families worldwide”. He says the church “firmly [opposes] these practices” but should ” assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”. 

Gay people should be respected and defended from violence, but not marry

Francis seeks to “reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity…while every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully avoided.” 

However, elsewhere he reiterates that the Synod has strongly opposed any redefinition of marraige – which includes same-sex marriage. 

On communion for remarried people 

In several places, the Pope acknowledges that “irregular situations” can make it difficult to stick to the letter of Church law: 

“It is possible that in an objective situation of sin… a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiveing the Chruch’s help to this end.”

In a footnote, Francis notes that this should extend to sacraments, including communion and confession, implying that those who have sinned through remarriage should be able to partake.

He quotes a particularly cutting line against those with a more purist outlook: “The Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a poweful medicine and nourishment for the weak”.  

The need for sex education

This is acknowledged as a section title in the document, which may sound impressive – but the Church has actually acknowledged that a “positive and prudent” sex education is needed since the 1960s. This, of course, would not include teachings on contraception.

Francis notes that information should be given to children at the “proper time and in a way suited to their age” . He criticises pornography as one of many negative messages that “deform” children’s sexuality.

Masculinity and femininity aren’t rigid

In a passage that still asserts God’s role in creating two separate genders, Francis encourages families to be flexible with gender roles: 

“Masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame.”

You can read the full exhortation here.