Pope Francis’ Blistering Attack on Catholic Marriage Discourse.

In the pursuit over marriage equality around the world, LGBT Catholics have been accustomed to a range of standard arguments used by many bishops and other Catholic opponents of same-sex marriage.  As our own advocates have regularly countered, many of the claims presented in support of these arguments are either unsubstantiated or just plain misrepresent reality. Others simply miss the point.

We now have a powerful ally in support of our counters to these “Catholic” defences of supposedly traditional marriage: Pope Francis.

Right up front, in the beginning of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), he launches a blistering attack on the way the Church has presented marriage. In particular, he criticizes the obsession with procreation, while neglecting the critical importance of love and mutual assistance. For gay couples, once we set aside this “obsession” with procreation, this focus on love and mutual assistance could become an argument for gay marriage.

He notes that “we” have failed to understand young couples’ “way of thinking and their concerns”. The established church has most certainly failed to understand the way of thinking and concerns of same-sex couples (old as well as young). Once the bishops begin the attempt to understand us better, the path to full inclusion will be eased.

He accuses the Church of having concentrated too “much on doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues”, instead of “encouraging openness to grace”. Already, there are a handful of bishops who in recent years have acknowledged that they have seen signs of grace in particular same-sex couples they know. We must hope that this shift of emphasis by Pope Francis will encourage more bishops to look at the reality of grace in LGBT lives, and pay less attention to theoretical doctrinal laws.

He laments the Church’s inability to present marriage as a path to personal development and fulfilment. Many same-sex couples can testify that for us, too, loving commitment mutual assistance and self-giving are an invaluable aid to personal development – and sometimes, even to spiritual growth.

Above all, he is concerned that the Church has too often failed to make room for individual conscience. Noting that with the aid of conscience, people are generally more than capable of conducting their own “discernment in complex situations”, closing the paragraph with the statement, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them”.

To which, LGBT Catholics can gratefully reply, “Indeed!”

Here’s the full text of the relevant two paragraphs.

36. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism. Then too, we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation. Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns. At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological idea of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.

37. We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.

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