Pope Francis Releases His Exhortation on the Family

April 8, 2016 - For Vatican watchers who've spent the better part of two years speculating whether Pope Francis would institute sweeping changes to the Church's teaching on marriage and the family, the moment has arrived.

No change in the Church's stance on same-sex marriage and the status of homosexuals. No change - but perhaps some wiggle room - in the path to the Eucharist for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Pope Francis released his much-anticipated apostolic exhortation on the family on Friday. The 256-page document, titled Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), amounts to his most concerted and most profound pronouncements to date on the family - including its key role in the Church and society as well as the social issues that have divided some members of the Church.

While the Holy Father doesn't put forth any new decrees on the matter of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, he does suggest that priests and bishops open their hearts to "a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since 'the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases,' the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same."

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's daily newspaper, said the exhortation "speaks the language of experience, offering an open and profoundly positive outlook, which feeds not on abstractions or ideal projections, but on pastoral attention to reality."

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Christopher Schönborn - archbishop of Vienna and a leading figure in both the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2014 and the Ordinary Assembly that followed in 2015 - explained that the Holy Father's purpose for the post-Synodal exhortation was to give expression to the Church's confidence in the family as intended by God.

"I think the key message is: 'Don't speak first about problems, speak first about the achievement of the family,' [and] I would like to [shout it] out," Cardinal Schönborn said. "The Church has been seen as a 'warner' - everywhere warnings and dangers and crises and problems. I think Pope Francis wants us to say, 'Please, just look first at the enormous gift that is marriage and family.'"

Read the full text of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). Check out a video from the Vatican's presentation on Friday of the apostolic exhortation:

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