Amoris laetitia

Amoris laetitia (Latin: The Joy of Love) is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis.[1] Dated 19 March 2016, it was released on 8 April 2016. It follows the Synods on the Family held in 2014 and 2015.[lower-alpha 1] The text was released initially in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.[2] As of 14 May 2016, a Latin version has not been released.

The English text runs about 250 small-format pages with nearly 400 footnotes. Its introduction and 9 chapters comprise 325 numbered paragraphs. Quotations are drawn from the writings of earlier popes, documents of the Second Vatican Council and regional episcopal conferences, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther King, Jr.[3] It includes what is thought to be the first reference to a film in a papal document, namely Babette's Feast (1987),[4] along with references to works by Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Antonin Sertillanges, Gabriel Marcel, and Mario Benedetti.[5][lower-alpha 2]


At a press conference sponsored by the Vatican Press Office, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P., Archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, along with Franco Miano and Giuseppina De Simone, a married couple, both academics who had participated in the synods, discussed the document.[6] Schönborn joked when reporters asked him about footnote 351, which discusses the controversial question of access to communion for those who have divorced and remarried: "I am surprised that everyone has read this footnote! But Pope Francis wishes to present an overall picture, not focus on this unique point". He said that "many expected a rule" to clarify which of the positions outlined at the synod the Pope supported, and that "they will be disappointed".[7]

Schönborn also said that when the synod participants formed small discussion groups some of them began by sharing their own family histories and discovered that many of them had direct experience in their own families of marriages that fail to conform to the ideal, which he termed "patchwork families". He said his own experience–his parents divorced when he was about 14 years old–made him thankful that text "goes beyond the artificial, superficial, clear division between 'regular' and 'irregular', placing everyone under the common lens of the Gospel, in accordance with the words of St. Paul: 'God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.'"[7]

The summary provided by the Vatican Press Office did not include any contribution by the three other attendees.[6]

Pope John Paul II's Familiaris consortio

Since the release of Amoris laetitia, various media outlets reported what many were calling a potential change in Church teaching on the ability of remarried divorcées to receive the Eucharist, to which they said Francis alluded in footnote no. 351,[8] which reads (with footnoted body text in italics):

Because forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.
351. In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).[9]

Reports addressed the apparent contradictions between this footnote and Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortations Familiaris consortio and Reconciliatio et paenitentiae. When asked in a press conference how Francis' work related to Familiaris consortio, which states that remarried divorcees must live "as brother and sister" in order to take communion, Cardinal Schönborn said that the former builds on the earlier work: "there is no change, but there is development".[7] Some traditionalists, notably Kazhakstani Bishop Athanasius Schneider and British advocacy group Voice of the Family, have criticized Francis' exhortation. Voice of the Family has called on him to "recognise the grave errors in the recently published Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, in particular those sections which will lead to the desecration of the Holy Eucharist and to the harming of our children, and to withdraw the Apostolic Exhortation with immediate effect."[8]

Selected quotations by topic

Initial reactions highlighted several of the issues of contemporary morality and church practice that had proved contentious during the synods' presentations and discussions, surrounding access to communion, divorce, sexual mores, and pastoral practice.

Access to communion
Rules and uniformity
Gender roles
Sexual orientation
Same-sex marriage
Gender identity

Pastoral care

Francis states an overriding principle of pastoral care: "A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in 'irregular' situations, as if they were stones to throw at people's lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, 'sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families'". (paragraph 305)[3]

Criticism of current practice

"...we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation. Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns. At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God's grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite." (paragraph 36)[13]


The text


Francis begins by noting a division of opinion during the synods: "The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations." He did not propose to resolve those differences by imposing unity: "Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth..." (paragraph 3)

He warns the reader that the document addresses many issues in many different ways and therefore says: "I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text." He asks the reader to consider the text "patiently and carefully". (paragraph 7)[13] Another called it a rich reflection and a response to criticism of the 2015 synod's report, which opened with sociological concerns rather than Scripture.[11]

1. In the Light of the Word

This chapter is "a biblical meditation on key themes related to the topic of marriage and family life" and includes a section on the importance of work.[12] In one view "it comes off as a collection of Scripture references that don't really hang together well" with "some good passages" like a discussion of Eve as helpmate to Adam.[4]

2. The Experiences and Challenges of Families
3. Looking to Jesus, The Vocation of the Family
4. Love in Marriage

Francis examines each phrase of St. Paul's passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in detail.[4][11]

5. Love Made Fruitful
6. Some Pastoral Perspectives
7. Towards a Better Education of Children
8. Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness
9. The Spirituality of Marriage and the Family


Edward N. Peters, a referendary of the Apostolic Signatura, wrote that Amoris laetitiae "is not a legislative document, it contains no legislative or authentic interpretative language, and it does not discuss Canon 915." So, the canon was not changed: Catholics in irregular marriages should not receive Eucharist.[14][15]

In the last months of 2016, the debate over Amoris Laetitia continued. Four cardinals (Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffara, Walter Brandmüller, Joachim Meisner) formally and privately asked Pope Francis for clarifications. They submitted five "dubia" (doubts), and requested a yes or no answer. Pope Francis declined to answer and the cardinals went public. Their questions focus on chapter 8 of the apostolic exhortation, "whether there are now circumstances under which divorced and remarried persons can receive communion, whether there are still “absolute moral norms” that prohibit Catholics from taking certain acts, and how the pope understands Catholic teaching on the role of conscience in making moral decisions."[16] According to Ross Douthat, with the "dubia", the Roman Catholic Church has "entered terra incognita."[17]


  1. The two synods are known formally as the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
  2. Regional bishops' conferences cited include those of Spain, Korea, Argentina, Mexico, Columbia, Chile, Australia, Italy and Kenya.[5]


  1. Francis, Pope (19 March 2016). Amoris lætitia: Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family (PDF). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. ISBN 978-88-209-9786-1. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 April 2016 via
  2. McElwee, Joshua J. (31 March 2016). "Francis' widely anticipated document on family life to be published April 8". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 McElwee, Joshua J. (8 April 2016). "Francis' exhortation a radical shift to see grace in imperfection, without fearing moral confusion". Mational Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Reese, Thomas (8 April 2016). "'Amoris Laetitia': Start with Chapter 4". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  5. 1 2 Ahern, Kevin (8 April 2016). "The Listening Pope". America. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  6. 1 2 "Presentation of the post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia: the logic of pastoral mercy, 08.04.2016" (Press release). Holy See Press Office. 8 April 2016. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 Scaramuzzi, Iacopo (8 April 2016). "Schönborn: Francis goes beyond the artificial division between 'regular' and 'irregular'". Vatican Insider. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  8. 1 2 De Souza, Raymond J. (29 April 2016). "Reading the fine print in Amoris Laetitia". Catholic Herald. Catholic Herald Limited. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  9. AL 305.
  10. Valente, Gianni (9 April 2016). "Amoris Laetitia: Families and the 'necessary' grace of the sacraments". Vatican Insider. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  11. 1 2 3 Weigel, George (8 April 2016). "Pope Francis on Love, Marriage, and the Family". National Review. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  12. 1 2 Winters, Michael Sean (7 April 2016). "'Amoris Laetitia': Francis challenges the church". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  13. 1 2 Tornielli, Andrea (8 April 2016). "'We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them'". Vatican Insider. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  14. Peters, Edward N. (2016-04-10). "The law before 'Amoris' is the law after". (blog). Archived from the original on 2016-04-10. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  15. CIC 1983, c. 915.
  16. McElwee, Joshua (14 November 2016). "Four cardinals openly challenge Francis over "Amoris Laetitia"". Vatican Insider.
  17. Douthat, Ross (26 November 2016). "His Holiness Declines To Answer". New York Times.

External links

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