I've only read eleven pages into his "new apostolic exhortation" called Amoris Laetitia, (Latin for The Joy of Love) but I was surprised and encouraged when I read his words:
Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle... needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”
As a practicing Catholic who had 16 years of Catholic education, this sounded different, albeit very subtly, to earlier teachings. I realize that I should read the rest of the lengthy document, but this passage demands immediate attention. While others are immediately concentrating specifically on what Joy of Love means for divorced Catholics and gay couples, I read something more fundamental.
It seems to acknowledge that individual consciences, shaped by different cultures and traditions might see things differently than the magisterium and that local priests and clergy should take account of that. This is key: "Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs."
There's not really any doctrine as such that's changed but there is, I think, a very fresh way that will strike Catholic people in the pews and the priests about how we pastorally deal with people, especially those people whose lives are really very complicated. (See Cupich's remarks here.)
Of course, individual conscience will only go so far in Pope Francis' view. While calling for an open and reflective discussion, he also, according to commentators, has not made any doctrinal changes. For conservative Catholics, this might have gone too far; for liberal Catholics, perhaps not far enough.
Just as Pope John XXIII deeply affected the church, Pope Francis might have too. But for now, the message is: there is joy in love.
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