Cardinal Wuerl’s ‘Amoris’ Guidelines Bring Clarity, but Confusion Remains


National Catholic Register, 9 March 2018

The new pastoral plan for implementing Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) in the Archdiocese of Washington, “Sharing the Joy of Love”  (SJL), achieves with its clarity a greater confusion.

The clarity comes from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop (see related In Person). The remaining confusion arises from Amoris Laetitia (AL) itself. First, the clarity. No one familiar with the long episcopal service of Donald Wuerl will be surprised at the high quality of SJL. A prodigious producer of catechetical materials on all aspects of the Catholic faith, Cardinal Wuerl has issued a text in his customary accessible and comprehensive style.

The pastoral plan is about the “other seven” chapters of AL. Pope Francis and others have long lamented that those chapters have been ignored in all the controversy over Chapter 8. Fair enough, but could anything else have been reasonably expected?

If a pontifical document on the Blessed Mother had seven brilliant chapters, but an ambiguous footnote in Chapter 8 could be read to suggest that some of the faithful, sincere in their consciences, were correct to worship her as God, where would the attention fall? SJL makes more accessible the rich teaching on marriage and family life contained in the “other seven” chapters of AL and acknowledges that many people, including many regular parishioners, have never truly heard the fullness of the Gospel vision for life and love lived in marriage and the family.

There is much practical advice, including advice on how the parish secretary should speak with couples who call the office to inquire about a wedding date.

The major strength of SJL is that it addresses concrete challenges to the flourishing of marriage and family life and offers suggestions for how parishes can respond. A particularly creative section is the one on “accompaniment,” which speaks about accompanying the “distracted” and the “anonymous.” SJL is a resource that will serve the parishes in Washington — and far beyond — very well.

Yet it will cause confusion, too. The clarity of SJL is forthright, if discreet. And the more clearly anyone speaks about AL, the more evident its contradictions become.

For example, Cardinal Wuerl does not address directly the question of admission to Holy Communion of those living in a conjugal union while being validly married to someone else. But then neither does AL. So if AL proceeds by hints and ambiguities on that question, Cardinal Wuerl proceeds by hints and clarities. And as in AL, the key is in the footnotes.

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