‘As can readily be understood from a quick review of its contents, the Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia seeks emphatically to affirm not the “ideal family” but the very rich and complex reality of family life.’ Happy reading.

It is not by chance that Amoris Laetitia (AL), “The Joy of Love”, the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “on Love in the Family”, was signed on 19 March, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. It brings together the results of the two Synods on the family convoked by Pope Francis in 2014 and 2015. It often cites their Final Reports; documents and teachings of his Predecessors; and his own numerous catecheses on the family. In addition, as in previous magisterial documents, the Pope also makes use of the contributions of various Episcopal Conferences around the world (Kenya, Australia, Argentina…) and cites significant figures such as Martin Luther King and Erich Fromm. The Pope even quotes the film Babette’s Feast to illustrate the concept of gratuity.

INTRODUCTION (1-7)

The Apostolic Exhortation is striking for its breadth and detail. Its 325 paragraphs are distributed over nine chapters. The sevenintroductory paragraphs plainly set out the complexity of a topic in urgent need of thorough study. The interventions of the Synod Fathers make up [form] a “multifaceted gem” (AL 4), a precious polyhedron, whose value must be preserved. But the Pope cautions that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium”. Indeed, for some questions, “each country or region … can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For ‘cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle … needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied’” (AL 3). This principle of inculturation applies to how problems are formulated and addressed and, apart from the dogmatic issues that have been well defined by the Church’s magisterium, none of this approach can be “globalized”. In his address at the end of the 2015 Synod, the Pope said very clearly: “What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”

The Pope clearly states that we need above all to avoid a sterile juxtaposition between demands for change and the general application of abstract norms. He writes: “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” (AL 2).