Since the announcement two years ago by Pope Francis that there was to be a Synod on Marriage and Family Life, there has been increased speculation on the part of the Church and the World’s media as to what the outcomes would be. On March 19th this year Pope Francis release his post synod Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris laetitia’ (The Joy of Love) as the fruits of the Synod. Since the publication of this important document there has been much speculation and interpretation of what this means for the teaching of the Church on Marriage and Family Life.
On Wednesday 20th April, the clergy of the Archdiocese of Cardiff gathered for an anticipated post Synod reflection. The reflection was to be delivered by Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton who was one of the two delegates from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales actually present in Rome for the Synod. He is also the chair of the Marriage and Family Life Committee within the Bishops’ Conference. However, with the publication of the of ‘Amoris laetitia’ the day turned into an opportunity to discuss this important document with Bishop Peter reflecting upon his experience of the Synod and offering his light on the published fruits.
The morning session focussed on a series of presentations by those present on their insights into each of the nine chapters of the Exhortation. Presentations were made by priests, some of our married deacons and the Parenting Support Officer. They highlighted both the density and the richness of the Exhortation; they also enabled some of our married clergy to offer their pastoral and practical insights into marriage and family life as ‘food for thought’. Some remarked how their reading the document has enriched their view of their own married state.
During the afternoon session Bishop Peter Doyle spoke of his experience as a ‘Synod Father’. He remarked on the ‘power of the media’, noting that when he returned to the United Kingdom at the end of the three weeks of work, the perception of the people as to what happened in that time did not live up to the reality. Some were saying “Good, divorced and remarried people can now receive Communion”, whilst others remarked “Nothing has come out of the Synod”. This is still the case with the the publication of ‘Amoris laetitia’, however as Bishop Peter highlighted – both positions are wrong.
In his words he remarked that the Synod highlighted the “richness of the Church” in the viewpoints that were expressed. He noted how experiences of Marriage throughout the world are different. In Europe, marriage is very much a private affair with close family and immediate friends witnessing the contract by their presence. This is in comparison to the African continent where a marriage is a large communal celebration, highlighting the social significance of Marriage and Family Life; here the village/town would be present. There was also need to consider the challenges of marriage within a multi-faith environment where one partner’s belief system may permit a second or third wife and the impact that has for a Catholic spouse etc. The Bishop remarked how there were so many interventions and issues to be brought forward that some topics, such as same-sex attraction, did not get the wider discussion time that the world expected. It was also noted that the experience of the Synod and the Apostolic Exhortation highlight the joy of hope.
Pope Francis wanted open discussion in the work of the Synod. He encouraged all present to be open with their words and said “Do not worry about the unity of the Church – that is my job”. ‘Amoris laetitia’ defends Church Teaching and reminds us that our first duty is to proclaim God’s Mercy and call to conversion those who struggle, walking with them and helping them to move forward, deepening their personal encounter with Christ.
There are many challenges to be worked out in living this ‘first duty’ in the Pastoral context, not least in the terms of reference of ‘Love’. The Bishops’ Conference will soon release new guidelines for Marriage Preparation, and the clergy of the Diocese will have full ‘in-service’ training in the future as we try to live out the Joy of Love in all aspects of life with the Church of Christ.
The thanks of the Archbishop and clergy of the Diocese go to Bishop Peter Doyle for joining us for a thought provoking day. Archbishop George will be releasing his reflections on ‘Amoris laetitia’ in the coming days.
Click here to read the full text of ‘Amoris laetitia’