For Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary of Los Angeles, when Pope Francis opened a cautious door for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion in Amoris Laetitia, he wasn’t “dumbing down” Catholic teaching but illustrating how to respond when people fail to live out the ideal.
In a keynote address for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, titled “Pope Francis and the Gospel of the Family: What is Jesus Calling our Families to Be?”, Bishop Barron said that “Everyone have talked about chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia because of the controversy, and the result of that is that we often overlook other very interesting, very helpful parts of the letter,” he said.
Barron said the way chapter eight and even the text as a whole has been portrayed from the beginning, as if it were “a battle between absolutism and relativism,” is unhelpful.
He said the chapter is about “formation in the moral life,” and ought to be read in continuity with the chapter which deals with the process of growing in virtue and balancing one’s use of digital communications.
Pope Francis, he said, “is keenly aware, it seems to me, of the challenges and difficulties in attaining the fullness of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, [but] it does not mean that he’s dialing down or negating this great demand.”
Reading aloud a quote from chapter eight, Barron said “Christian marriage 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, and belong to each other until death, and are open to the transmission of life.”
“Could John Paul II have said that any more emphatically?” he said, adding that the Church “is not interested in spiritual mediocrity,” but rather, calls people to be saints and to live heroic virtue, which is first learned in family life.“We’re not interested in a dumbed-down, dialed-down ideal,” he said, but at the same time, given Francis’s pastoral experience, the pope is keenly aware that many people struggle to live up to the saintly ideal put before them.
In terms of what to do when the Church meets people who are struggling or in difficulty, Barron said there are two paths that recur throughout the Church’s history: “Casting off, and reinstating.”
From the time of the Council of Jerusalem, held around 50 AD, the Church has been following the way of Jesus, which, Barron said, is “the way of mercy and reinstatement.”
This, in his view, is “the heart of chapter eight,” Barron said, adding that “it’s not negating, dialing-down, denying the ideal, it’s not relativism in regard to the Church’s sexual teaching,” but is sensitivity to fragility.
“What do you do when someone is not living at the highest level of sanctity? Cast you off! The law says this! Okay, there is that path, but the pope says the Church’s way has been the way of mercy and reinstatement. I think that’s what he’s interested in: our pastoral sensitivity to those in these very situations.”
What Amorisspells out, Barron said, is that “the family is the place par excellence of formation in virtue,” which is built through a slow, day-to-day process of practice and refinement.