Understanding Amoris Laetitia

Rocio 3

By Dr Rocio Figueroa

When the Apostolic Letter Amoris Laetitia was published it had an incredible media coverage both within the Catholic Church and in secular society. Unfortunately, the discussion about Amoris Laetitia has focused on chapter 8.  This created a huge controversy around the issue of the Eucharist and whether or not it should be received by remarried divorcees. The most progressive groups in the Church concluded that the Pope had made a significant change in moral theology while more conservative groups considered that the Pope was being unfaithful to the Tradition and to the indissolubility of marriage. I think those two visions are simplistic and not quite loyal to Francis’ thought and I also think is slightly dangerous to only base our opinion of the letter on chapter 8.

Usually these discussions occur when important changes of perspectives are proposed. It happened with Vatican II, it happened with some Encyclicals published by Leo XIII and Paul VI. It is common in the Church that some people try to arrange or accommodate Pope’s teachings to their own point of view. Divisions about perspectives within the Church have existed since the first century of Christianity; enough to mention the differences between Peter and Paul. These types of differences or discussions are not necessarily a bad sign. It can be a sign that we are a lively Church, a Church in which people think, and have different views. Actually, I am happy that we continue talking about Amoris Laetitia because it generates debate, discussion and work from us Catholics. It can also “provide new opportunities to retrieve certain truths that have become dormant”.[1]

At the same time, I consider it is necessary to have a wider vision about Amoris Laetitia and to understand all its content. I will give you my own interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. I don’t think that the Pope has touched or changed the essence of our doctrine, but he has changed the approach to the pastoral mission.  

I would like to give you some topics that I consider fundamental or key to understanding Amoris Laetitia.


  1. The Title Amoris Laetitia and the Pope’s pastoral concern

Why did the Pope use the two words love and joy?

Love: we believe that all human beings have been created in the image of God, and this means to be created to love and to be loved. The problem is that there is a pessimistic view that a definitive and everlasting love doesn’t exist anymore. Most of the millennials have seen that the love of their parents has not lasted and often it would be difficult to see a better future in their own lives. Talking about love is a big challenge and there is no way to convince people about love just through ideas.

I think that the title “the joy of love” expresses the real concern of the Pope: How can we awake the possibility for the world that love is real? How can we belief in love if we see so much selfishness, nastiness, and violence?

His answer is in the title, with the joy of love: “Here we are not talking about a feeling, a romantic vision. This is not a discussion of personal development.  We are talking about a love that can heal any damage; A love that can save the most lost human being. There is a Love bigger than mine, than yours that can rescue us from selfishness and maliciousness. This love has a concrete countenance and is Jesus Christ”[2].

In a relativistic world in which no one believes in the truth, the Pope wants to find new ways to attract people to the Gospel. In our times, it is not just by words or ideas alone but principally through the beauty of love. I think that we have forgotten to evangelize with the beauty of love and with joy.

I have only been married for 4 years. When I met my husband, he was not a practicing Catholic and he was also sincere with me that he didn´t particularly believe in marriage.  Everybody in my family advised me not to date him. I decided to take the risk. And I said to myself, perhaps if we discover together what love is he will change his mind. And it happened. He was happy with a relationship made up of friendship, care, love and companionship and we got married. Of course, I was blessed. He discovered the joy of love. I never talked to him about marriage, I didn’t convince him about the values of family and marriage. The reality that convinced him was just the love and joy that we were experiencing.

For me the crisis of the family is because we are not able to be creative and participate in Jesus’ love in our own relationships. When we love with God´s love we can see the other as he is meant to be. With God´s love we have the power to imagine the others as sharing God´s image.  That is why the other feels love and is able to experience love. When we are superficial, we just see the boring, neurotic, or shy person that someone is… but that is not creative. We are not open to love´s creativity. Someone feels loved by us when we are perhaps able to see more capacity for love than he or she gives us. And this happens in our own families: all we see is how complicated our sister or brother, or father or mother is, sometimes we only remember how they failed us and it may seem incredibly difficult to try to overcome all these situations and to create something new.

The second word of the title of the letter is Laetitia. The word joy in Latin has two meanings: Laetitia and gaudium.

The Pope uses the word laetitia to express the experience of joy, but he doesn’t use gaudium because Gaudium means the plenitude of joy. The love of the family is joy but it is just a sign of the Gaudium of God. It is not perfect. The family is a sign, a prophecy of the fulfilment. It is the symbol of the love of God.

If we want to make God present in our world, we need to live the joy of family.  When I say family, I am referring to the family that does not just include our nuclear relatives, I am referring to all humanity. Humanity is our family.  A theologian once said that this world is an orphan world that needs fathers and mothers. I think that our first task or response to Amoris Laetitia is to become parents, brothers or sisters of humanity, always taking care of those in need of love.




  1. Context of Amoris Laetitia
  2. a) Literary Genre

First, it is important to understand Amoris Laetitia’s literary genre (2016). It is the fruit of two Synod. It has as a starting point, the debate of the bishops during the Synods (2014 and 2015). The Pope didn’t want to present a new dogma or give solutions to all the problems, but he wanted to initiate the reflection of different issues regarding family.

“The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions” (Amoris Laetitia, n. 2).

We have to remember that the Pope affirmed in the Synod of 2015: “Synodality is the path of the Church… walk together pastors, lay and the bishop of Rome”.

With this letter the Pope is enacting the principle of synodality inviting pastors to be co-responsible but at the same time inviting us lay people to think and discuss.

Pope Francis also wants to strengthen a more decentralized administration. In this he is on the same page as John Paul lI promoted in his Encyclical Ut unum sint to “begin a new study of the question of a universal ministry of Christian unity”[3] in the hope of find a new situation of exercising the primacy[4].



  1. b) Document on Pastoral Theology

Secondly, we are discussing here a pastoral document. It is not a philosophical document neither is a dogmatic theology text. I think it is a reflection of pastoral theology. It is a sapiential reflection, which means full of wisdom. And as pastoral reflection it has its source in the people’s experience of faith who are trying to live human love.

To understand Francis´ style, we must understand his pastoral theological method: this is Latin American Theology.   This is a man, who went against various structures of power in Argentina and decided to go to preach to the most vulnerable and poorest, in the shanty towns. The government accused him of being a communist and he just wanted to follow the Gospel. He didn’t want to live in the archbishop palace in Argentina. He aided a close friend of mine in Argentina, to rescue girls from sexual trafficking. He is a man that have seen a lot.

What are the characteristics of a Latin American Pastoral method? The starting point is experience. We must remember that experience is one of the fundamental sources of theology.  It is not the only source, but it is a valid way, especially in pastoral theology.  Latin American theology tries to understand the experience of the people of God to better understand the truths of the faith and moral life.  We need to remember that for Latin-American theology the first step is discipleship and then comes theology as the second step.  After living the experience with the people of God, Pope Francis tries to reflect in a theoretical way and then goes back to the pastoral praxis with new vision. It is the famous method that bishops have used in all the meetings of the Episcopal Conferences in Latin America: see, judge and act.

So, if we don’t try to understand Latin-American Theology we may miss the point of the apostolic letter.

  1. c) The text is written within the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis wishes that our approach to families is guided by the spiritual attitude of

This Exhortation is especially timely in this Jubilee Year of Mercy…it seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy (Amoris Laetitia, 5).


This is the most important invitation that we have received. The most important of God’s attributes is mercy. I think that in a secularized society like New Zealand, in which God is not so obviously present in society, we should look with merciful eyes at all the situations: the single woman taking care of their children, the broken families and the people who are afraid of getting married or having any serious commitment. The most important act is to show them our compassion, mercy and love. But at the same time, we must look with mercy on our own families. We also have problems, frailties, incomprehension, lack of communication and ruptures. Our life within the family needs to be based on a love that becomes mercy, that accounts for our personal weaknesses and the weaknesses of those besides us.

We are called to be a sign of mercy wherever the family life remains imperfect. So Francis is conscious that so many families are living in precarious situation and we must show our closeness. It is a change of perspective.



  1. Principles for reading Amoris Laetitia

I will now just develop two principles that I consider fundamental to understanding Pope Francis´ thoughts.

  1. Time is greater than space

In all his encyclicals and in the letter Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis invites as to live by the principle “Time is greater than space”. What is he trying to affirm when he states that “Time is greater than space”? How does he connect this principle with the reality of family?

We must not read this phrase as a scientific principle. Also, he is not using time and space as philosophical terms. He is just using them as symbols and metaphors.

The ecclesiological view of Pope Francis is to understand the Church as people of God. This image underlines two important values for Francis: the historicity of the Church, a pilgrim Church that walks towards the Kingdom of God, and the second value of the communion between hierarchy and lay people in which all of us participate in the common priesthood. He wants to eliminate any careerism or sense of superiority from the hierarchy.

With his ecclesiology we can now understand better why he considers time dominant over space. For Pope Francis, time means the process that is needed in life for growing and developing, the salvation that is acted in a concrete history. Time is something that you aim towards. Time refers also to the fact that God in Jesus entered history seeking to save each single person.

Space, on the other hand, symbolizes for the Pope, limits, a static dimension in which we can control reality and experience it. He has compared this priority of space over time to those people within the Church that search power and only occupy space.

When he applies this principle to the pastoral reality of families, he is giving us the message that time is needed to assimilate the truth that is Jesus. We must give time to ourselves and to others, instead of searching for immediate results. Results that clearly occupy space.

Sometimes we Catholics feel impotent when no one listen to us. We don’t see a Christian culture, and no one follows the Gospel. One of my students, a father with two adolescent boys, commented in class that when he talks about faith no one in his family listens to him. He felt frustrated. And here comes the principle of Pope Francis for family. It seems that it has its origins in an important Jesuit like Peter Fabro. He affirmed: for being mature and free we need time and a lot of patience, because “time is the messenger of God”.

Another important influence of this idea about time and space, comes from Ignacio of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. He affirmed:

Non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est. Do not let yourself be restricted by the biggest space, but you have to be capable of being in a very little space”.  Magnanimity or loving with generosity, is making a virtue of the big things as well as the small things.  Magnanimity is not just doing lots of things or reaching many people with our love, but it is also giving all our heart to every little situation.

Jesus diminished his space. He made himself smaller, poorer, less kinglike, less regal, he entered the sufferings and the limits of his people. And this is our path as Christians.

This is something that I have discovered in my own life. When I was young I was very passionate and always thinking where I could go to proclaim the Gospel: I evangelized in United States, Italy, different cities in South America and I wanted to get to China and Japan. I understood evangelization as conquering spaces for Jesus. Now, I do not think that this was wrong, but in some ways, I believe that in the past, I only wanted results and fruits – results that occupied space. Thinking about that the other day, I was wondering if I had lost my enthusiasm, but then I realized that I had changed my point of view. My passion for evangelization continues.  It is just that life has taught me that to help people and families we need to accompany them in all their process. To do that, time is needed. We must give the people around us what they need in each moment, trying to help them in their progression towards the Truth and Jesus. For example, someone who is very damaged may only be able to assimilate one of our smiles. Perhaps others are able to receive a gesture from us or words of consolation. Or someone may want more, they may be willing to talk about God. These little acts, though they may seem small, may actually open pathways that can lead to an encounter with God.

So, there is the primacy of the journey to follow. The Church needs to open new paths and not be worried about occupying spaces. When I got ill in Rome and I was in bed for more than 6 months I discovered the power of the mission. I discovered that I had to go deeper but not necessarily wider. The other day a friend of mine who is not a Catholic, said to me that he liked Catholicism because Catholicism doesn´t try to conquer masses but tries to go deeply into the mystery and help people encountering that mystery…

If we talk about paths we need to think of ways in which someone can change from sin to grace, but this is not a magical path. It needs time.

Time is more important than space, the process over the automatic response, the graduality of the pastoral life over the logical consequences.

  1. B) Reality is more important than ideas

This is another very important principle that Pope Francis uses in Amoris Laetitia.  When he says that reality or people are more important than ideas he is giving us the key to understand what Truth Jesus represents. Jesus is not an idea, Jesus is a Person. To encounter the Truth means to have a personal encounter with Jesus in which the truth become flesh in our lives.

We are not talking about a scientific truth. For us Truth is a relation. God is relation. live the truth is a calling and a vocation for each of us. It is not just subjective, but it can only become reality in a personal path.

In an interview with P. Spadaro Pope Francis answers what is the truth for him:

“Now, the truth, according to Christian belief, is God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. So, the truth is a relationship! Each of us grasps the truth, and expresses from themselves, from their history and culture, from their situation in which each one lives, etc. This does not mean that the truth is variable and subjective, far from it. But it means that it is given to us only as a journey and life. Jesus himself said: “I am the way, the truth and the life”. In other words, the truth is ultimately one with love, it requires humility and the opening to be accepted and expressed”.

Example: if I have a friend that is a womanizer who is afraid of committing himself, I will not try to convince him about the importance of getting married and having family. First of all, I will try to support him in the first step of his own emotional maturity. Sometimes these processes can take an entire life time. We, disciples of Jesus are called to accompany people and walk with them on their own journeys.

The Pope also challenges us in how we have presented till now the values of marriage. He affirms:

  1. “… It is true that there is no sense in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things. Nor it is helpful to try to impose rules by sheer authority. What we need is a more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations for choosing marriage and the family, and in this way to help men and women better to respond to the grace that God offers them”.

It seems that the Pope is searching for a new approach. An approach that is less authoritarian, less focused on rules. The old style of evangelization decrying evil in all its guises does not help the modern world.  Before, the Church had a more juridical idea of marriage. He adds:

  1. We also need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation. 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 ideal 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.

He asks us to leave behind our idealistic vision of marriage. It is not that we have lost our ideals. It is just that we live in a very complex world. Of course, our ideal of family is that a woman marries a man and they have children and stay together with love, trust and joy. But life presents us: a woman without a husband, a remarried man with 3 children, a single pregnant adolescent, traffic of young girls in prostitution…

Pope Francis asks us that when we are in contact with people, in our mission, we need to be more concerned with the reality of the person. For example, if I meet a single woman with three children, I would be careful not to bring up the subject of married life and the importance of a husband with her because that is not her situation.  It would be uncaring and unthinking to do so. First, I would try to support her and her kids trying to help with her life.  So love is the method.  The truth is not a bullet that we shoot at someone. It is a gentle way in which the truth can help and build.

As Christians of  course we have ideals. And we live by them. But to preach these ideals to other can sometimes hide an aggression.  Some we can hide with this preaching our superiority and aggression about those who we think don´t reach our standards. We have our ideals, but reality and the concrete person is more important.  t

If I meet a girl who is 16 years old and pregnant I would not judge her and I would not start talking about the evils of pre-marital sex. Instead I need to support her as a member of the community and help her as young adult who need education. And of course, if I have little children and adolescents I will present them the values and ideals of marriage and family.4.

  1. The experiences and challenges of families

Today the family faces new challenges that we must answer. For me, chapter 2 of Amoris Laetitia is a brilliant analysis of the complexity of the problems that we face. Pope Francis not only writes about what he has seen of families, but also he refers to the testimony of the bishops in different parts of the world. He presents a very good synthesis of the various challenges. These challenges include: cultural decline that fails to promote love, a society that makes harder for people to get married, the lack of maturity in young adults and the problem of loneliness. He also addresses other situations that are affecting the family like housing, migration, families with children with special needs and the loneliness of the elderly.

The situation of the family now is very different from that of our parents or grandparents. Now there are fewer marriages. In 2009, the marriage rate was 13.5 marriages per 1000 (estimated non-married population aged 16 years and over). In 1971 it was 45.5 marriages per 1000. This generation is more likely to be un-partnered or to partner later. In 2006 28% of people aged 24-34 years had never married or entered a civil union, and 34% were unpartnered[5].

The advancement of the rights of the woman have changed the countenance of the family. Women and men are now both participating in the development of the society and this has generated new challenges. Every day it becomes more difficult for families to balance family life and work demands. In many societies, like Latin America for example, we don’t see enough men helping women in the house.

For, example I lived in Mexico for three years and I created a project called reciprocity to help indigenous women to understand their own value and dignity. In these Mexican towns, women were expected to not only take part in the agricultural work, but also be responsible for the household food and taking care of children with little or no participation of men. When I asked them, it was so they answered: men are superior to us, and love means that we need to make them happy. See video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E_24aSiClI


The Pope also addresses how the phenomenon of poverty is affecting family life. In New Zealand, single parent families make up 28% of all families with dependent children. These families are the poorest in New Zealand. Child poverty is consistently blamed on unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and inadequate social security benefits. Little attention has been given to family structure. Despite marriage being the best protector against child poverty it has become politically unfashionable – some argue insensitive – to express such a view. But if there is to be any political will to solve child poverty the issue has to be confronted”[6].

The dominant liberal ideology of our Western societies does not value community life: today neighbors hardly know each other, there is little time for friendship. A consumeristic society values people for the price of their work.

So, sometimes we denounce that we lack family values, but we have participated in a consumeristic society, not taking care of the poor people, living in our own isle without solidarity towards the vulnerable ones.

  1. The use of the Bible


  1. 8 “The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family with all its burden of violence but also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9)”.


Pope Francis doesn’t use the Scriptures as a dogmatic or normative source. It is a narrated experience of faith. It is a narrated story to inspire us.


Pope Francis wants to search the narrative and language of love. He finds the original narrative of love at the biblical level. And it is a dramatic story with light and shadow. All of us are included in the narrative. The Gospel doesn’t present an ideal view of the family but the reality of it with all its complexity. It can be a companion in our journey.


  1. Jesus himself was born into a modest family that soon had to flee to a foreign land. He visits the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law is ill (cf. Mk 1:30-31) and shows sympathy upon hearing of deaths in the homes of Jairus and Lazarus (cf. Mk 5:22-24, 35-43; Jn 11:1-44). He hears the desperate wailing of the widow of Nain for her dead son (cf. Lk 7:11-15) and heeds the plea of the father of an epileptic child in a small country town (cf. Mk 9:17-27). He goes to the homes of tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus (cf. Mt 9:9-13; Lk 19:1-10), and speaks to sinners like the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50). Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables: children who leave home to seek adventure (cf. Lk 15:11-32), or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9). He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-10), the failure of guests to come to a banquet (Mt 22:1-10), and the anxiety of a poor family over the loss of a coin (Lk 15:8-10). 


In a very sharp and wise interpretation of the Scriptures he finds the core of the Gospel:


  1. In this brief review, we can see that the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering. For it shows them the goal of their journey, when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more” (Rev 21:4).


  1. Dealing with irregular situations in chapter 8

The Church has always been conscious about the frailty of many marriages:

  1. The Synod Fathers stated that, although the Church realizes 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”.

“292. Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society. Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way”.

The church has changed its approach: on the one hand, it continues to proclaim the goodness of a fully realized union in marriage. The vocation has not changed: it is the indissolubility of marriage. The Church affirms that some unions contradict this ideal radically. All the elements of the doctrine on marriage are loyal to the traditional teaching of the Church.

On the other hand, the Church doesn’t want to condemn all others forms of union, but tries to consider the good elements and the seeds of love and justice that are within them. Instead of looking at these types of unions as completely threatening we must look at them more as opportunities for our pastoral mission. An example might be a couple that is against the principle of marriage, but they are cohabitating while unmarried, because they don’t have the money to pay for the wedding.

What are the three principles that we could use dealing with irregular situations?

  1. Law of graduality

The first principle is the law of graduality. It means that all of us can improve our relationship with God and become more virtuous gradually; we can never jump into perfection in a single step. This teaching is in continuity with John Paul II who affirmed in Familiaris consortio n. 9 that a human being fulfills moral good according to their stage of growth.

For this reason, Amoris laetitia states that “it is not a” graduality of the law “but a graduality in the prudential exercise of free acts in subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate or fully practice the objective requirements of the law” (No. 295). For this reason, in the end, with a touch of deep realism and invitation to Christian hope, Pope Francis points out “to relativize the historical path we are doing as families, to stop pretending from interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a coherence that we can only find it in the definitive Kingdom “(n. 325).

Ex. I would like back to the girl we met who was 16 old and was pregnant: I supported her and when she had her baby and she is now more stable, I will begin helping her to talk about the value of marriage and maternity and the importance of not having casual encounters.


  1. b) Subjective conditions or conditions of Conscience

The second principle is conscience.

  1. Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever-greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response 345

Pope Francis considers that the personal story and the conscience of the subject is central for the reception of the doctrine. Without this reception the doctrine is death. Sometimes in Catholic education we have imposed norms and doctrines on young people without helping them to assimilate them in a personal way that orientates their freedom in their choices.

We need to form conscience and we cannot substitute it. That is why Pope Francis doesn’t want to oblige Catholics with norms and prohibitions, but he wants them to understand the value that hides behind.

Pope Francis also makes a self-criticism of how the Church has talked about love and family. For example, sometimes we Catholics defend marriage and family, thinking that by talking about our ideals we can change people.

  1. 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.

In Catholic theology, conscience in the human being is not just a subjective dimension. We are not talking of conscience as a psychological trait of the psyche. Conscience was at the core of the teachings of Vatican II. It is the sacred place in our hearts where God´s presence dwells. It is the real presence of God within each of us.

Cardinal Newman has deep definitions of conscience: “conscience is a special faculty of the mind. It is a specific and integral operation of the human soul”3.  “A messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches us and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ, a prophet in its information, a monarch, a priest in its blessings and anathemas, and, even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church should cease to be, in it the sacerdotal principle would remain”[7].

Talking about this moral obligation Newman affirms: “toast the Pope but conscience first”. We can never act against our conscience.

It is true that we can err, but we also need faith. Because of our baptism we participate in the prophetic mission of Christ and our faith gives us the gift of the sensus fidei fidelis.

The path of the subject belongs to the sensus fidei fidelis. What is the sensus fidei fidelis? The International Theological Congregation affirms that a faithful “not only ‘unfailingly adheres to this faith’, but also ‘penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life’. It is the means by which the people shares in ‘Christ’s prophetic office’” (LG, 12)[8].

The document continues: “The sensus fidei fidelis is a sort of spiritual instinct that enables the believer to judge spontaneously whether a particular teaching or practice is or is not in conformity with the Gospel and with apostolic faith. It is intrinsically linked to the virtue of faith itself; it flows from, and is a property of, faith. It is compared to an instinct because it is not primarily the result of rational deliberation, but is rather a form of spontaneous and natural knowledge, a sort of perception (aisthesis)”[9].


  1. c) The need for discernment

The third principle is the need for discernment, quoted thirty-five times, clearly echoing Ignatius of Loyola and confirmed by two precise quotes from Thomas Aquinas (No. 304). The principle that is proposed is as follows:

“If we take into account the innumerable variety of concrete situations […], it is understandable that we should not expect from the Synod or this Exhortation a new general canonical norm, applicable in all cases […]. Priests have the task of “accompanying people concerned on the path of discernment according to the Church’s teaching and the Bishop’s guidelines […]”. This is an accompanying and discerning itinerary that directs these faithful to the awareness of their situation before God. The dialogue with the priest internally contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what is hindering the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and the steps that can help and grow it […]. This discernment can never ignore the requirements of truth and charity of the gospel proposed by the Church “(No. 300). This task of discernment is also entrusted to “lay people who are devoted to the Lord” (Amoris Laetitia, n. 312),

  1. d) Is the Pope allowing communion for remarried divorcees?

This depend on each case. The important thing is that for access to communion we cannot take communion if we are in mortal sin. Has the doctrine changed? No. It has changed the discipline about the access to communion[10].

This teaching comes from St. Pius X. We only live in mortal sin when we have committed with freedom and conscience. This was affirmed by Pope St. Pious X, in his Catechism.

For example, I remember one case. A woman that I was abandoned by her husband and left with two children and later remarried. She told me, I believe in God, I know that this is not right, but I can’t live without a man beside me. (she was very fragile psychologically and suffered from depression). She continued he is not a Catholic, but he is a good man. If I ask him to be without sexual intercourse he will abandon me. Her freedom is reduced. She wants to change her situation, but she cannot act on her desire. Do you think is possible that she would be able to receive the communion? I think yes because you have grave matter, conscience but not enough freedom. So, she is not in mortal sin.

Sometimes a person knowing the norm is unable to live it, or he or she cannot take another option without generating another sin.

Does the Pope have the authority to change the discipline? Yes he has. Other Popes have changed the discipline. The Council of Trent excommunicated those who lived in adultery and they were not allowed to enter the church. The excommunication changes in Familiaris Consortio and in Canon Law.

I think we need time to continue reflecting, thinking and applying this Letter. If you have not read the entire Document I encourage you to read it and if you have read it I encourage you to continue thinking about it.

The other day Father Merv. showed me a Maori proverb that for me synthetize the spirit of Pope Francis writing this letter:

He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.
Maori proverb

[1] Francesco Coccopalmerio, A Commentary of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia, New Jersey: Paulist Press 2017, Foreword.

[2] Rodrigo Guerra, “Para comprender Amoris Laetitia. Premisas y argumentos, respuesta a dudas y objeciones, camino y esperanza” in: Medellin, vol. XLII, n. 168, 409-449.

[3] John Paul II, Encicyclical Ut Unum sint, n. 89.

[4] Cfr. Ibid., n. 95.

[5] Cribb J., (2009, June), Focus on Families, New Zealander’s families yesterday, today and tomorrow, Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, issue 35, retrieved from: https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/spj35/35-focus-on-families.html).

[6] L. Mitchell, (2016) Child, Poverty and Family structure’, retrieved from: https://www.familyfirst.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Child-Poverty-and-Family-Structure-FULL-REPORT-1.pdf


[7] Cardinal Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk.

[8] International theological Congregation, Sensus fidelis in the life of the Church in:  http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_20140610_sensus-fidei_en.html (Accessed 1st December 2017), n. 44.

[9] Ibid. 49.

[10] CIC 1650 and Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.


Peruvian theologian Dr Rocio Figueroa is a systematic theology lecturer at Good Shepherd College. She lectured in spiritual theology for five years at the Giovanni Paolo II seminary in Salerno, Italy and Universidad Popular Autónoma in Mexico and also worked for the former Pontifical Council for the Laity, networking with various international Catholic organisations to promote the dignity of women. The article was a lecture she delivered in Wellington on December 3, 2017.

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