Washington D.C., Sep 29, 2016 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States bishops have said that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia, was well-received among local Catholics and has had a broader focus than is sometimes recognized.
Among the dioceses and Catholic organizations that had responded to a survey organized by the U.S. bishops, “many noted that the exhortation had been well received by Catholics in the United States and that the emphasis on accompanying marriages and families was particularly appreciated,” the bishops’ report said. “It was noted that media reports and commentaries have tended at times to present a myopic view of Amoris Laetitia, with interest in only a few topics out of a broad range covered in the exhortation, and that this has sometimes presented a challenge to the proper reception of the document,” the bishops added.
The Pope’s document, known as a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, was published April 8. It follows two global gatherings of bishops at Synod on the Family held at the Vatican in 2015 and 2016. At the request of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, the U.S. bishops surveyed bishops and leaders of national Catholic organizations to gauge the reception and implementation of the exhortation in their nation.
Responses came from 59 dioceses and 18 national organizations. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, the U.S. bishops’ conference president, commented on the bishops’ report. “Pope Francis has given us a tremendous gift in Amoris Laetitia,” said the archbishop. “May our ongoing reception of it continue to be an opportunity for the whole Church and society to renew their dedication to protect, promote, and strengthen marriages and families.”
For Archbishop Kurtz, the apostolic exhortation offered “a wealth of encouragement, guidance, and wisdom about the beautiful gift and vocation of marriage and family life.” The U.S. bishops’ report on the document’s reception said the survey responses indicated “excitement” about the document and gratitude for its “hopeful, positive tone about marriage.”
Many bishops and national Catholic leaders said the document has inspired further attention to how to welcome Catholics in irregular marriage situations and how to integrate them into the Church. Other discussion has focused on marriage preparation, marriage ministry, new forms of missionary activity, and how clergy and others can best respond to the needs of families today, especially those in serious difficulties. Survey responses said priests could use good guidance on effective preaching on Amoris laetitia and confessors need advice on how to assist people in irregular marital relationships.
Respondents desired further resources on the reception of the sacraments as it concerns people in irregular marriage situations. They also desired further explanation of key terms and concepts in the Pope’s exhortation, such as discernment, integration, gradualness, conscience, and mercy. Respondents stressed “slow and careful” implementation of Amoris laetitia. Many noted the importance of good communication with the Catholic faithful, and the responses also discussed education and formation of the clergy and the re-evaluation and strengthening of marriage-related ministries.
Other ministry fields the responses discussed included natural family planning, chastity, ministry to parents, youth ministry, ministry to those with same-sex attraction or in same-sex relationships, Hispanic and Latino ministry, and ministry to families with children who have special needs. The diocesan tribunal was also a special focus.
Respondents noted the need to educate the laity on the marriage nullity process and to implement fully Pope Francis’ changes that made the nullity process more accessible and without fees.
Archbishop Kurtz said the bishops’ conference looks forward to the development of a renewed, comprehensive pastoral plan for marriage and family life ministry and advocacy, inspired by Pope Francis. This plan will be developed as a “strategic opportunity” for the Church in the U.S. to make incarnate the exhortation’s vision of marriage and family life. The bishops’ report links to three dioceses that shared their resources on the reception and implementation of Amoris laetitia: the Archdioceses of Washington, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. T
he bishops noted their own efforts to promote the exhortation through news media and social media events and on websites such as usccb.org, foryourmarriage.org, and marriageuniqueforareason.org. The U.S. bishops will vote in November 2016 on their strategic plan for 2017-2020, including a pastoral plan for marriage and family life ministry.