Vatican cardinal calls Amoris Laetitia a controversial document

Cardinal Marc Ouellet takes part in the Pontifical Council for Cultures Plenary Assembly on Womens Cultures in Rome on Feb 6 2015 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA CNA 2 6 15 Cardinal Marc Ouellet takes part in the Pontifical Council for Culture's Plenary Assembly on Women's Cultures in Rome on Feb. 6, 2015. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, said in Toronto that Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, is a controversial document, but that it has not introduced any change to existing Catholic doctrine.

The Canadian-born cardinal spoke during the closing address of the States Dinner at the 134th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus.

"Before concluding," he said, digressing from his prepared remarks, "let me say a word about the papal document, Amoris Laetitia, that was born of the two recent Synods on the Family."

"In all honesty, I think that controversies around Amoris Laetitia are understandable, but, in all confidence, I believe they might even be fruitful in the end."

Titled Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love, the April 8 document is the conclusion of a two-year synod process at the Vatican that gathered hundreds of bishops from around the world to discuss both the beauty and challenges of family life today.

Both of the synods sparked controversy amid speculation over whether there would be a change in the Church's practice that the divorced-and-civilly remarried may not receive Communion. In accordance with the words of Jesus that "anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery," the Church says that those living in adultery – or any other unrepentant grave sin – may not receive Communion.

In his 1981 exhortation Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul II wrote, "The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried."

In his new document, Francis stresses the importance of individual discernment over one-size-fits-all style rules. In chapter eight – a section that particularly sparked controversy – he suggested that in some cases, a person who is divorced-and-civilly-remarried may not be in a state of mortal sin, due to mitigating factors such as a lack of full knowledge and consent.

The document was met with confusion, although numerous bishops and theologians have said that the exhortation does not change the teachings of the Church.

Cardinal Ouellet said that Amoris Laetitia "is a document worth reading and rereading, slowly, one chapter after another – enjoying the marvelous chapter four on Love."

He nevertheless said that chapter eight should be entrusted "to the careful and open minded discernment of priests and bishops towards people in need of charity and mercy."

"What is essential is that we try to grasp the Holy Father's desire and intent to provide for the true and substantial reconciliation of so many families in confused and difficult situations."

"No change of the doctrine is proposed, but what is proposed is a new pastoral approach: more patient and respectful, more dialogical and merciful," the cardinal said.  

"For the most part, priests and bishops are being asked to care for and walk with them in order to help people make spiritual growth even in objective irregular situations."

"I am grateful to the Holy Father and am convinced that this whole process of discernment and pastoral accompaniment will bear fruit for all families," Cardinal Ouellet concluded.

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