Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, says the Pope’s 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family must not be misinterpreted as a break with Church tradition. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Cardinal Ouellet warns against “alarmist” interpretations of Amoris Laetitia

  • September 26, 2017

CORNWALL, Ont. – Cardinal Marc Ouellet has denounced the “alarmist” and “unfaithful” interpretations of the Pope Francis’ document Amoris Laetitia.

The Canadian cardinal, who serves as the Vatican’s Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, told Canadian bishops the 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family does not signal “changes to doctrine or to sacramental discipline,” but represents a pastoral approach that takes into consideration “the good of the person” according to his or her circumstances.

“Any alarmist interpretation” that says the document is “a break with tradition,” or a “permissive interpretation that celebrates access to the sacraments” for the divorced and remarried, is “unfaithful to the text and to the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff,” said Ouellet.

Speaking Sept. 25 to more than 80 bishops and eparchs attending the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Ouellet said although Amoris Laetitia’s controversial Chapter 8 includes a footnote that may open the door to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist “in certain cases,” these are “exceptions.”

He noted “contrasting reactions” to the document, which have been “delighting some, worrying others, leaving none indifferent.”

The former Quebec City cardinal and Primate of Canada said Chapter 8 is a call for a “new pastoral conversion” that can bring comfort to suffering people. He conceded that although many welcome this approach, others see it as a risk, “a break with the traditional doctrine and discipline” of the Catholic Church, he said.

Chapter 8 became the “interpretive key” for the document, making people judge it as either “positive and welcome,” or “ambiguous and risky,” he said.

Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), which followed synods on the family held in 2014 and 2015, “deserves more attention in itself than merely the public debate” around “disputed points,” he said.

Late last year four cardinals wrote to Pope Francis seeking clarification on several questions related to the document. More recently, a group of 62 priests, theologians and lay Catholics sent a letter to Francis which they claim corrects several heresies contained in Amoris Laetitia.

Pope Francis identified Chapters 4 and 5 as the “centre of the document” said Ouellet. The document “must be read as a whole” to understand the “limits and extent of the pastoral orientations.” Often, however, critical comments have been “removed from their context.”

Amoris Laetitia seems “especially urgent and needed in Canada” because of a gap between the Church’s official teaching and the “lived experience of couples and families,” Ouellet said. This gap has widened since Vatican II due in part to the influence of what St. John Paul II called “the culture of death.” He cited unrestricted abortion, euthanasia, contraception, pseudo-marriage of same-sex couples, divorce and assisted suicide as examples of this culture.

“We must re-read Amoris Laetitia in a spirit of pastoral conversion,” and with “receptivity to papal teaching,” to help cultures that are “far from the faith” experience the “joy of the Gospel that emerges from faith,” he said.

Pastoral conversion is a process that involves accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness in order to reach people in fragile circumstances, he said. Without that conversion, “it is impossible to adopt the appropriate pastoral attitude of welcome, listening, dialogue and mercy,” said the cardinal.

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