Damian Thompson

Pope Francis’s revolution has been cancelled

Pope Francis's revolution has been cancelled
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Here's the beginning of the Guardian's report on Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), Pope Francis's response to the Synod on the Family:

Pope Francis has called for the Catholic church to revamp its response to modern family life, striking a delicate balance between a more accepting tone towards gay people and the defence of traditional church teachings on issues such as abortion.

In a landmark papal document entitled Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), Francis outlined his vision for the church on family issues, urging priests to respond to their communities without mercilessly enforcing church rules: “Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs,” he wrote.

Can you spot what's missing? Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. That's because the document doesn't mention it – except in a confusing footnote referring to how the Church can help such Catholics grow in grace:

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As Private Eye would say: er, that's it.

Some quick reactions:

  1. Francis has many interesting things to say in Amoris Laetitia, which reads in places like a self-help manual, but they don't include changes of the rules regarding hot-button subjects. His mood music is gentler than that of his predecessors, but then it was already. Andrew Brown of the Guardian says that Francis has 'lost this battle for reform' and that this statement represents 'a draw between liberals and conservatives'. I'm not sure how a lost battle can also be a draw, but then Brown has a vivid imagination.
  2. Catholic liberals had guessed that the Pope wasn't going to readmit divorced-and-remarried people to Communion. They pinned their hopes on an announcement that bishops' conferences would be given the power to bend the rules fairly dramatically. That's not happening either. This exhortation encourages priests to reach spiritual accommodation with repentant divorcees – but the only hint that this may include admitting them to Holy Communion is banished to the above footnote. 'But the devil is in the footnote,' conservatives are wailing already. Oh, please. If the 'devil' (i.e. liberals) has achieved his aim, why are the proponents of 'reform' in such despair today?
  3. Gay people get some familiar reassurances about their dignity as human beings etc but also scare quotes around same-sex 'marriage', which is roundly condemned. I've always said Francis wasn't interested in secular gay rights and this exhortation bears that out.
  4. In effect the Pope has decided not to go down the route of the Anglican Communion, which devolves major questions of doctrine and pastoral practice to local churches. That's wise of him, because look what happened to international Anglicanism.
  5. The Kasperites have been dumped, effectively. Hardline German liberals must be asking themselves why Francis encouraged them so extravagantly, then squashed their ambitions.
  6. The answer lies in the proceedings of the 2015 Synod, where the liberals were outmanoeuvred by (among others) ferociously orthodox African bishops. Of whom more later.