Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” was released five years ago today, on April 8, 2016. The 264-page document, whose title is Latin for “The Joy of Love,” is one of the longest papal writings in history. It meanders through an introduction and nine chapters, offering everything from grandfatherly advice on family life to Scripture reflections to South American love poems, observing along the way the difficulties families face and gently urging pastors to be more compassionate toward parishioners whose relationships do not always match the church’s ideal.
The document marked a shift away from an exclusive emphasis on the church’s idealistic image of family life, one that had often felt out of reach for ordinary Catholics. “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,” Pope Francis wrote. “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.”
While still encouraging Catholics to live up to the church’s ideal for marriage, Pope Francis said, pastors must find ways to welcome the many Catholics living in relationships deemed “irregular” in church teaching: Catholics who had been divorced and civilly remarried without having their first marriage annulled, gay and lesbian couples and unmarried cohabitating couples. Many Catholics in these situations had expressed that they felt ostracized by the church, being told they were “living in sin.”
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