A bone of contention even among the highest levels of the hierarchy, the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is supposed to act as a guide for families in the years to come. This is at least confirmed by the report published in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano on the recent international meeting in Spain which brought together several key actors in pastoral family ministry.
The International Family Encounter was held from July 17 to 21, 2017, in Madrid. This initiative, which was attended by eighty lay leaders from thirty different countries, is a result of the joint efforts of the Instituto Universitario de la Familia of the Comillas Pontifical University and of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life created by Pope Francis in August 2016.
This meeting was an occasion for the different actors in pastoral family ministry, who call themselves the spiritual sons of St. Ignatius of Loyola, to cite the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia as their source of inspiration and reflection. As the general theme of the congress goes to prove: “’See how they love one another.’ A lay Ignatian response to Amoris Laetitia”.
Fr. Guilliermo Gutierrez Fernandez, a Mexican priest, was one of the most noteworthy participants in the congress. He is a member of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life that, according to its statutes, “is competent in matters that pertain to the Apostolic See regarding the promotion of life, the apostolate of the lay faithful, the pastoral care of the family and its mission according to God’s plan and for the safeguard and support of human life.” This new structure is an extremely important factor in the context of the current issues in connection with the family, especially since the last Synod on the Family spread confusion and perplexity on the matter among the faithful.
As it turns out, Fr. Gutierrez’s contribution did not offer any much-needed clarifications on the pastoral theology of the family. From the start, the religious declared that “pastoral care is an exercise of patience and mercy that should be conducted more in the manner of a proposition, abandoning the imperative mode of command”. The priest did not say whether he had in mind Christ’s attitude when he ordered the adulteress to sin no more…
Fr. Gutierrez then listed some of the challenges that should bring the Church to draw ever closer to people. Like a “welcoming Samaritan”, by answering to these challenges, she will finally become “a missionary Church”.
The famous challenges listed by Fr. Gutierrez are presented as debates meant to lead beyond the traditional pastoral approach of the Church. Among these debates, for example, was the opposition between reality marked by the “loss of human and Christian hope in love” and the consequent difficulty young people have in “shouldering responsibility and making a lifelong commitment to their partner”.
Another example is the opposition between “the moral and anthropological problems concerned with welcoming human life”, and “the practice of sexuality understood as the mature expression of gestures that allow partners to live their communion intensely in a complete reciprocal gift”.
Finally, “the lack of a connection between plans to get married in the Church and an active life of faith”.
These impasses allowed the member of the Dicastery on the Family to suggest “some courses of action”, such as “rereading the Apostolic Exhortation [Amoris Laetitia], that is a real guide for all those who work for the family”. Can anyone who has not made Amoris Laetitia his paradigm of life be considered a worthy agent of the new pastoral ministry for the family?
To sum up his suggestions, they basically entail no longer “imposing obligations in an authoritative way or declarations of principles”, but rather “educating responsible freedom”, by helping people to develop their ideas and behavior “in order to discover the truth about themselves”. This is at the very least a case of implicit situation ethics and the modern notion of the “law of graduality”, an idea according to which the divine moral law has degrees, and each degree is legitimate as long as the person is on the path towards the ideal. This conception of the law is directly opposed to Catholic morality. It is simply an example of the primacy of individual freedom and personal conscience over any exterior law, regardless of the authority that made the law, even if it is divine.
“In any case,” concluded Fr. Gutierrez, “the method Amoris Laetitia asks us to follow is that of dialogue, of reaching out, building bridges, turning a cordial face to the world: in order to discover the meaning of the questions that haunt the men and women of our times, and to lead them by the hand towards their meeting with the merciful Father.” Here we recognize what has become the habitual way of speaking in the Church these past 50 years, the fruit of a positive pastoral approach to the world that ignores the reality of sin and its consequences and forgets the necessary fight against the spirit of the world and Satan who is its prince.
Every desert has its mirages: Amoris Laetitia is in the middle of the void of “pastoral family ministry”. More than ever, it is the duty of the Holy Father, to whom Christ entrusted the mission of confirming his brothers in the Faith, to clarify a subject as fundamental for the life of the Church as that of the sanctity of marriage and the flourishing of an authentically Christian family life.