At first reading, many lesbian and gay Catholics could be disappointed with Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). There’s little enough about us to start with, and what there is, seems to do no more than restate the familiar but badly neglected platitudes about “respect”, and the need to avoid violence and persecution. Right up front in its opening pages, the document restates the mantra of the family as consisting of one man and one women, and children – and the purpose of marriage as intertwined with procreation. Later, there is yet again, a firm restatement of opposition to gay marriage. Above all, there is absolutely no hint of any change in the hurtful established Catholic doctrines on sexuality.
Closer examination however, reveals some cause for optimism, certainly in the longer term. What is not said may be more important than what is explicitly stated. Most notably, there is no reference at all to the offensive term “objectively disordered”, or any hint of opposition to same-sex relationships (as long as they do not claim to be “marriage”). Although there is a forthright objection to same-sex marriage, this is not listed among the many problems and dangers that are said to threaten actual families, or even the institution of marriage itself.
While the opening pages insist on coupling marriage (and therefore, love and sex) with procreation, extensive discussion later in the document places greater emphasis on the unitive value of physical love. The title of the piece is “The Joy of Love” – and there is an extended, explicit celebration of love in its physical expression – of sex, as something to be enjoyed without shame or embarrassment.
Most important of all, in an important chapter on pastoral guidelines and the importance of the “interior forum”, there is a reminder of the clear distinction between what may be thought of as “objectively” sinful behaviours or conditions, and any moral judgement of a particular situation concerning a specific person. Drawing on a passage from the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, the conclusion we may reach is that even though those who remarry after divorce, or who live openly in same-sex relationships, may appear to be living in conditions of objective sin, their particular circumstances may negate that conclusion.
Thirty years ago, when I first considered returning to the Church after some years as a “lapsed” Catholic, the priest with whom I discussed my situation as an openly gay man in a sexual relationship with another, said that as my relationship was committed, loving and monogamous, he could not believe that God would want me to be denied the joy of sexual love that is available to heterosexual married couples. That priest may have been ahead of his time, but three decades on, with the new emphasis in “Amoris Laetitia” on the interior forum and attention to particular circumstances, on conscience and on the celebration of the unitive value of sex, I am confident that many more priests today will agree with the assessment I was given thirty years ago: gay men and lesbians in committed, loving and monogamous relationships should not be denied the joy of love.
This document has not changed any element of church doctrine – but it has undoubtedly created the conditions for change, especially in real-world pastoral practice.
- Aquinas, In SUPPORT of Same – Sex Relationships.
- Amoris Laetitia – Goodbye to “Objectively Disordered”?
- Apostolic Exhortation on the family: The Pope is calling for a new openness on the part of the Church (The Tablet)
- Pope Francis Calls on Church to Be Welcoming and Less Judgmental(The New York Times)
The Church Must Integrate, Not Exclude, Catholics in “Irregular Situations” (America Magazine)
Francis, Family and Feminism (America Magazine)
- What is Francis Saying with “Amoris Laetitia”? (Commonweal)
- Amoris Laetitia,’ start with chapter 4 (National Catholic Reporter)
Francis’ exhortation a radical shift to see grace in imperfection, without fearing moral confusion (National Catholic Reporter)
Adriano Oliva’s Amours: L’Église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels: Book Notes (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- John Corvino Responds to “New Natural Law” (Book, and Video) (queeringthechurch.com)
- Catholics and Same – Sex Relationships: A Pathway to Doctrinal Change? (queeringthechurch.com)
- Louis Crompton on the “Theological Assault” of the Ulpianic-Thomistic Conception of Natural Law (Part I) (thewildreed.blogspot.com)