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  • Pastoral Guidelines for ImplementingAmoris Laetitia
  • Archbishop Charles Chaput

The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia completes the reflection on the family conducted by the Synods of 2014 and 2015, a reflection that engaged the entire world. In issuing Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis once again calls the Church to renew and intensify the Christian missionary proclamation of God's mercy while presenting more persuasively the Church's teaching about the nature of the family and the sacrament of Matrimony. In all of this, the Holy Father, in union with the whole Church, hopes to strengthen existing families and to reach out to those whose marriages have failed, including those alienated from the life of the Church.

Amoris Laetitia therefore calls for a sensitive accompaniment of those with an imperfect grasp of Christian teaching on marriage and family life who may not be living in accord with Catholic belief and yet desire to be more fully integrated into Church life, including the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist.

The Holy Father's statements build on the classic Catholic understanding, key to moral theology, of the relationship between objective truth about right and wrong—for example, the truth about marriage revealed by Jesus himself—and how the individual person grasps and applies that truth to particular situations in his or her judgment of conscience. Catholic teaching makes clear that the subjective conscience of the individual can never be set against the objective moral truth, as if conscience and truth were two competing principles for moral decision-making. [End Page 1]

As St. John Paul II wrote, such a view would "pose a challenge to the very identity of the moral conscience in relation to human freedom and God's law. … Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil" (Veritatis Splendor, §§56 and 60). Rather, "conscience is the application of the law to a particular case" (ibid., §59). Conscience stands under the objective moral law and should be formed by it, so that "the truth about moral good, as that truth is declared in the law of reason, is practically and concretely recognized by the judgment of conscience" (ibid., §61).

But since well-meaning people can err in matters of conscience, especially in a culture that is already deeply confused about complex matters of marriage and sexuality, a person may not be fully culpable for acting against the truth. Church ministers, moved by mercy, should adopt a sensitive pastoral approach in all such situations—an approach both patient and faithfully confident in the saving truth of the Gospel and the transforming power of God's grace, trusting in the words of Jesus Christ, who promises that "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). Pastors should strive to avoid both a subjectivism that ignores the truth and a rigorism that lacks mercy.

As Amoris Laetitia notes, bishops must arrange for the accompaniment of estranged and hurting persons with guidelines that faithfully reflect Catholic belief (§300). What follows is a template for such guidelines. It is meant for priests, deacons, seminarians, and lay persons who work in the fields of marriage, sacramental ministry, and pastoral care regarding matters of human sexuality.

For Catholic Married Couples

Christian marriage, by its nature, is permanent, monogamous and open to life. The sexual expression of love within a truly Christian marriage is blessed by God—a powerful bond of beauty and joy between man and woman. Jesus himself raised marriage to new dignity. Every marriage of two baptized persons has access, through the sacrament of Matrimony, to grace and life in Christ, especially through the shared privilege of bringing new life into the world and raising children in the knowledge of God.

Marriage and child-rearing are sources of great joy. They have moments (like the birth of a child) when the presence of God is palpable. But an intimately shared life can also cause stress and suffering. Marital fidelity is an ongoing encounter with reality. Thus, it [End Page 2] involves real sacrifices and the discipline of subordinating one's own needs to the needs of others.

Pastors should stress the...


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