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Amoris Laetitia – Mercy and Truth have met

Dear Archbishop, is it true to say that “a small section of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia raises very serious questions to us Catholics who would like to obey Jesus’ teachings on the indissolubility of marriage”?

The letters in the Catholic News and the international debate on the Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (AL), reveal a range of thought. This, some Catholics believe is a source of confusion or worse, a questioning of the pope. As Oswald Joseph noted (CN February 4, Pg 2), the problem is interpretation.

Thinking has been split into two camps, largely by the American media—Fox News and CNN. These media houses have peddled an ideology that many Christians now place before the reading of the gospel or the tradition of the Church.

Thus we have been duped into using the gospel and the tradition to prove our ideology in an either/or proposition. An ideology is a system of interconnected ideas and ideals that help us make sense of and interpret the world. The challenge is that after a while we no longer see the ideology; we believe we have direct access to the world. If you wear yellow sunglasses long enough you begin to believe the world is yellow.

Nothing should be placed between the gospel and us. This is a great challenge. We are no longer seeing the gospel or the teaching of Jesus. We see what our system of ideas leads us to focus on and we screen out and refuse the facts that do not agree with our opinion. This is the same blindness that Jesus laments in his confrontation with the Pharisees (Jn 9:35–41). This blindness affects both sides of the ideological divide.


Complex truth is often a paradox. Are we justified by faith without works (Rom 3:28) or is faith without works dead (Jas 2: 26)? We often think the opposite of truth is falsehood. In Christianity, many times the opposite of a truth is another truth.

Jesus instructs us to turn the other cheek if we are slapped (Mt 5:39) yet when slapped by an official in his trial, he challenges him and defends himself (Jn 18:21–23).  Both are true and appropriate ways of following Jesus. In AL, Pope Francis has put both sides of the paradox, side by side.

Chapter Eight opens with the paradox that, “although the Church realises that any breach of the marriage bond ‘is against the will of God’, she is also ‘conscious of the frailty of many of her children’.” Several times in the chapter, (see 292 & 293) this paradox of the ideal and the reality of human frailty is repeated.

Interpretation of the text requires an awareness of this structure. If we do not see its paradoxical nature, we are blinded by a one-sided proposition: either orthodoxy or mercy. Each on its own, taken to its logical conclusion, falls short of the fullest expression of the truth that is communicated by the words, witness and teaching of Jesus. This is the ideological trap into which many have fallen.

Binary thinking—either/or—wants certainty and clings to its side of the ideological polarity to find security and prove it is right. In Fowler’s Stages of Faith development, paradoxical thinking is the highest stage of spiritual development, the seedbed of the mercy and truth of Chapter Eight.

Amoris Laetitia was written only after two synods, in 2015 and 2016, on the family. Pope Francis listened to the Church through questionaires that each diocese submitted and then twice to the bishops before writing the document. Only by attributing the worst faith to the Pontiff can someone believe AL has in any way changed the teaching of the Church on divorce and remarriage. It is this assumption that worries me.

Development of doctrine

Mark 10:1–10 and Luke 16:18 make no exception on divorce and remarriage. Mark even overturns the latitude given by Moses (Mk 10:1–12). In Matthew, however, (5:31–32, 19:9) a pastoral consideration seems to emerge, the case of porneia. This shows a development of doctrine within the New Testament. Whatever contention there is about its interpretation or application, we must admit that in Matthew, Jesus gave an exception to the rule of divorce and remarriage.

Likewise St Paul, speaking for “the Lord” (1 Cor 7:10) forbids divorce and remarriage. But then, in 1Cor 7:12–16, he gives a teaching of his own regarding the marriage of a Christian and an unbeliever. He uses his authority and gives both husbands and wives the power to divorce a non-Christian spouse. He says, in v 15, if the unbeliever leaves the marriage “the Christian is not bound in such circumstances”. The Church has interpreted this as the Pauline privilege, which is the dissolution of the marriage bond, not an annulment, Canon Law 1143–1147.


The development of the doctrine on divorce within 1 Corinthians and in the Gospel accounts reflects pastoral considerations. If Jesus gave an exception, who are we to declare no exception is possible?

The exception may be very limited and complex, but cannot be ruled out, unless our ideological biases take priority over interpretation of the text. This would bring us closer to the Pharisees whom Jesus was addressing. The Pauline and Petrine exceptions are embedded in Canon Law and are still a valid way of dissolving the marriage bond.

Pope Francis has brought papal teaching to bear on the pastoral care of couples in irregular unions. This is completely within his right and authority. He has not changed any Church dogma. I fully endorse the use of this Apostolic Exhortation in the formation of families and recommend every Catholic read it in its entirety. The thought that a Catholic could question the use of a papal document for teaching is very worrying to me.