francis speaks out against clericalism…again!

Pope Francis continues to make daily head-lines that excite this liberal heart. Here’s one from yesterday, written by NCR’s Joshua J. McElwee,

Francis: Spirit works in laypeople, ‘is not property of the hierarchy’

On the one hand, it’s sad that this announcement makes head line news. Shouldn’t it be obvious that the Holy Spirit isn’t an exclusive gift to priests, bishops and popes? And, yet, how many times have we been led to believe that those with the sacred oils of ordination have a direct line to the Divine while we, the great unwashed in the pews, are wallowing in ignorance?

Ongoing Vatican reports on Pope Francis, like the one above, provide a path-way to a deeper understanding of Amoris Laetitia. As much as I have would have loved Francis to single-handedly sweep away all church teachings that have caused women and men to feel excluded from the Body of Christ, I also know that I would not want other popes to have this kind of power.

What Francis is doing is greater than simply changing laws. He is challenging minds and hearts to prepare the way for a more participatory, egalitarian and inclusive church.

Clericalism is the antithesis of a participatory, egalitarian and inclusive spirit. In the NCR story above, Francis called clericalism “one of the greatest deformations that Latin America must confront”. The context was a letter written to Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his role as head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The pope is obviously well acquainted with the church in Latin America, and feels strongly about the issues that he is addressing.

Francis speaks often about the evils of clericalism, and the damage it has imposed on the church. In the letter , he writes,

Clericalism, far from giving impulse to diverse contributions and proposals, turns off, little by little, the prophetic fire from which the entire Church is called to give testimony in the heart of its peoples…Clericalism forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belongs to all the people of God and not only an elect or illuminated few.

One of the most quoted lines from Amoris Laetitia is,

We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them. AL, 37.

In the letter to Cardinal Ouellet, He writes,

We trust in our people, in their memory and in their ‘sense of smell,’ we trust that the Holy Spirit works in and with them, and that this Spirit is not only the ‘property’ of the ecclesial hierarchy.

The Holy Spirit works in each of us? We might have better knowledge than a priest of what is right and wrong in our own situation? Who would have known!

Clericalism IS at the heart of much that is wrong with our church. Clericalism feeds, supports and shelters the power and control that has been associated with the hierarchy for centuries. Clericalism wraps itself in finery and surrounds itself with symbols of prestige. Clericalism demands to be served rather than to serve.

Francis is nudging the People of God to an adult faith, a faith that sheds an unhealthy and dysfunctional dependence on “Father”. Father does not always know best. Clericalism stifles the independence and freedom needed to be formed into spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually mature women and men.

love not bound by “perfect” family model

love is patient 2

Love is patient, love is kind…

Raise your hand if you included St. Paul’s famous canticle of love (1 Corinthians 13) at your wedding ceremony. Hubby and I did. The lyrical verses have become synonymous with marriage. In Chapter 4 of Amoris Laetitia, titled “Love in Marriage”, Pope Francis presents a line by line reflection on the scriptural passage.

In this chapter Pope Francis puts aside documents and synod reports and speaks as a pastor. What does on old, celibate man know about marriage? Apparently, quite a bit. Francis gleans insights from astutely observing the daily struggles of family life. It is also important to remember that Francis was a Jesuit who lived in community. Community and family life share many of the same gifts and challenges.

These paragraphs have the earthiness of his homilies. There is no need to crack open up a theological dictionary to understand his message. There is also a sense that Francis is speaking to a larger audience. After all, love is central to the Christian vocation. If love was central to all human activity, our world would be a much different place.

Many commentators have said that this chapter should be used to re-write marriage preparation manuals, and it certainly provides good reflection material. (I was more than a bit liberal with the highlighter!) Francis uses the scripture passage to reflect on family life in general and as a preparation to discuss conjugal love between husband and wife. (AL, 120) But, maybe its time to read this exultation of love with a more inclusive mind and heart.

What if we, personally and as a church, acknowledged that these soaring scriptural images of love can, and do, apply to many families who do not fit into the “official” model of family as promoted in church documents, homilies, and cultural warrior battles?

What if we admitted than many families whom we have judged and marginalized actually “do” family life better than those who fit into the correct Catholic model?

What if we focused more on the love that is lived within a faithful, committed family relationship than on the perceived sinfulness of those doing the loving?


joy of love, reflecting on amoris laetitia



The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. AL, 1

These are the opening words in  Amoris Laetitia, the post-synodal exhortation by Pope Francis.

Joy. A word easily associated with Francis, who frequently speaks of a church of open arms rather than a wagging finger.

The document was eagerly anticipated. Francis, already a pope of surprises, had encouraged a more open and transparent dialogue in the recent synods on the family. And, a dialogue he was given. It was not always polite. It was not always in agreement. But, open disagreement is more honest than endless sycophantic presentations.

In Amoris Laetitia, Francis summarizes the work of the synod while offering practical advice to both pastoral ministers and families.

In the introduction, Pope Francis warns against two extremes of thought regarding the outcomes of the synods. The first is,

An immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding. AL, 3

Those who expect the Pope to overturn all church teachings in one fell swoop will be disappointed. The second extreme is,

An attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations. AL, 3

Those who expect Amoris Laetitia to be a comprehensive catechism clearly listing the rights and wrongs of family life will also be disappointed.

The dialogue that took place during the two synods (both within and without the synod halls) highlighted the “complexity” of family life. Complexity is a nice word to describe the messy reality that many of us face.

The greyness of complexity requires the hard work of personal discernment and this, I believe, is one of the greatest gifts of Amoris Laetitia. Francis is nudging and empowering lay women and men towards an adult faith. Cultures are diverse and each situation is unique. Difficult questions seldom have easy answers.

The following statement is a breath of fresh air to all who have felt the burden of black and white church teachings imposed from above,

Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral and pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. AL, 4

Amen…and AMEN!

personal document vs. synodal document

As I was reading the document, I found myself skimming the inevitable references to previous church documents and the catechism. I also found myself impatient with some of the lengthy quotes from the synod documents. Again, they seemed to repeat the “same old, same old” teachings on marriage and sexuality. Meanwhile, Francis’s personal words resonated with a genuine pastoral understanding of the daily struggles of family life.

I began to wonder what this document would look like if it was heavily edited to include only the words of Francis. It would be a shorter and more readable document. But, a “Francis only” document would go against his push towards a more synodal church; a church where all voices are heard. After all, why call a synod if you’re not going to listen to what is said?

Amoris Laetitia is a long document because Francis gives voice to the tradition of the church and the synod members while personally addressing many of the issues faced by families around the world. For this, he is to be commended.

a reflective reading of amoris laetitia

Because of it’s length, Francis himself gives permission to be selective in our reading,

The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs. AL, 7

Readers of this blog know my preference for a Lectio Divina style of prayer. It is also my preference for pondering and writing. So, I’m going to dive in and begin a series of reflections on Amoris Laetitia.

These will not be theological reflections, for I’m not a theologian. They will be simple musings on specific phrases and paragraphs that sparked something in my mind and heart. More often than not, they will be related to my own family life journey…but that’s what Lectio Divina is all about. It is reading slowly and carefully in order to hear God speaking to you in the here and now.

The benefits of Lectio Divina are multiplied when shared with others. Personal reflections are deepened when added to the voice of a community. Yes…we’re talking dialogue! I do hope that you will join in.

So, here we go…