The latest proclamation by Pope Francis signals a bold change of direction for the Roman Catholic Church and its approach to family life.
The pontiff's exhortation is titled "Amoris Laetitia," Latin for "The Joy of Love." In it, he calls on church leaders to welcome several groups long excluded on moral grounds, including cohabiting couples, single parents, divorcees, and gays. He encourages priests to greet families with understanding and comfort.
Father Joe Palacios is a university fellow at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC. He shared his reaction to the apostolic exhortation with Take Two.
What did Pope Francis say today?
“He basically opened up a pastoral approach to marriage and family life around the world. He provided a context for the various social, economic, political challenges that the families [are] facing in the world today, and he provided a very broad pastoral approach that addresses both individuals, couples, families [and] public policy issues regarding the family. I think this is a very strong turn away from a more legalistic or canonical approach to marriage and family life [opening] up a very broad and pastoral approach, especially in the formation of conscience and how people make decisions about [the] most intimate parts of their life.”
Equally important to note is what the Pope didn’t say. For one, he did not relax the church's stance on same-sex marriage, saying they are not equivalent to heterosexual unions. Did this surprise you?
“No, it didn’t because I think the challenge of the church in the modern world is facing the new empirical evidence regarding sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, and the new forms of partnership in marriage that have been evolving in society. As long as the church is still very beholden to a natural law of anthropology — which is imbedded in the laws of the church — it’s going to continue to approach [the subject of marriage like this].”
Pope Francis is from Argentina. The ones that preceded him were Europeans. Do you think his experiences in South America influenced this shift to accept — what he calls — "irregular" lifestyles such as unmarried couples living together?
“Argentina has gone through the most social changes in Latin America. Their economy has been up and down. The effect of the economy on family life and just the stability of communities has been tremendous. And so I think he’s bringing that vast experience into the papacy.”