US bishops: don't rush in reading, interpreting Pope's 'love letter' to families

Pope Francis greets a family at a prayer vigil for the Synod on the Family, Oct. 3, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.
Pope Francis greets a family at a prayer vigil for the Synod on the Family, Oct. 3, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

.- The United States bishops are welcoming Pope Francis’s new apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia, praising the Pope’s call for careful encouragement and support of married life and engagement with families facing challenges.

The bishops also echo the Holy Father’s call for a careful and considered reading of the text, urging understanding as Catholics seek to apply the Pope’s recommendations to their families and to society.

“The Pope has given us a love letter – a love letter to families,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a Friday press conference. The document, the archbishop said, challenges the faithful to grow in love and trust in God’s mercy in the face of difficulty. “Let us remember that no obstacle is too big for Christ to overcome.”

Archbishop Kurtz also echoed the Pope’s own caution against “a rushed reading of the text” when turning to it for pastoral guidance and understanding. “I really encourage each one of us to read and reflect carefully on the words of Pope Francis – how they can be applied to our lives, our families and our society.”

Archbishop Kurtz was one of eight American participants in the two-year synod process that led up to the release. The process featured two meetings of bishops, or synods, hosted at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015, which culminated in the release of Amoris laetitia April 8.

Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo,  chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said the letter is a “beautiful and stirring reflection on love and the family” that challenges pastoral ministry to be more “missionary” and to engage with the “concrete reality” of parishioners’ lives.

He promised that the U.S. bishops “stand with families and seek to support those who are touched by poverty, trafficking, immigration challenges, domestic violence and pornography.”

“We also have room to grow and improve and we welcome the Pope’s encouragement of a renewed witness to the truth and beauty of marriage and a more tender closeness with couples and families who are experiencing real difficulties,” he commented.

Bishop Malone also stressed to CNA that the first step for bishops and pastors in implementing the advice presented in Amoris laetitia is to take time to read and truly understand it. “We cannot rush our interpretation of what we have here,” he emphasized. “We don’t want to be taking bits and piece of them without taking them in context.”

While it is too early to know what the full impact of the exhortation will be, Bishop Malone said that American bishops and pastors will likely seek ways to strengthen marriage preparation and support for married couples – both topics Pope Francis emphasizes in the letter. Archbishop Kurtz agreed with his colleague, telling CNA that improvements to marriage preparation and support of couples after marriage “will probably be the largest impact” within the United States.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who also participated in the synod meetings in Rome, welcomed the document as a gift both to the Church and to “everyone who wants to understand what God really intends for our true happiness.” The archbishop said in a statement that while he is going to “read his reflections slowly and carefully,” he was encouraged by the Pope’s emphasis on marriage preparation and support of couples in their first years of marriage.

“I was also touched by our Holy Father’s call for all of us in the Church to reach out with compassion to wounded families and persons living in difficult situations,” the Archbishop commented.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stressed that while the document “changes no Church teaching or discipline, it does stress the importance of pastoral sensitivity in dealing with the difficult situations many married couples today face.” Archbishop Chaput also participated in the Synod meetings in Rome, and hosted the World Meeting of Families in Sept. 2015 in Philadelphia.

Archbishop Chaput pointed to the letter’s large size – more than 250 pages – and praised the Holy Father’s advice to read Amoris laetitia carefully and slowly, promising further thoughts of his own as he finished reading the exhortation. Meanwhile, he thanked the Pope for his thoughts and analysis of the “unique witness” of Christian marriage. “Nothing is more essential to any society than the health of marriage and the family,” he concluded.

Tags: Synod on the Family, Amoris Laetitia

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