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The Secret Key to Understanding Pope Francis and “Amoris Laetitia”

Pope Francis shakes hands with young people after a papal audience at St Peter's square on March 27, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS

His approach is about spreading the Gospel, not spreading the rules

I’ll admit I initially felt a lot of trepidation when Pope Francis became pope.

It was hard for me to accept when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down. I love Pope Emeritus Benedict. I came back to the Church under his pontificate, and I admire his intellect, his clear, incisive writing and especially his deep humility.

When I first began observing Pope Francis’ very different way of being in the Church, I felt a lot of fear. Many of the people who want huge sea changes in the Church seemed so excited by Pope Francis. Frankly, this was (and still is sometimes) alarming. I love the Magisterium and the teachings of the Church, and I feared that this sound foundation would crumble.

But after a lot of prayer, I began to realize that my fear belied a lack of faith. Popes cannot change doctrine even if they want to, and more importantly it is now clear to me, when I ignore the inevitable spin the media puts on things, that Pope Francis is not in the business of changing doctrine. He makes this very clear in his recent document on the family, Amoris Laetitia.

Pope Francis believes in marriage. He believes in family. He believes in life. He believes in the continuity of the teaching authority of the Church.

So why are people so confused?

Pope Francis’ teaching can be ambiguous and confusing because the primary lens through which he views the teachings of the Church is evangelization, not doctrine. In other words doctrine informs and is the foundation of his approach, but in a hierarchy of values it is not on top.

And this is appropriate. The Christian life is about spreading the Gospel, not spreading the rules.

We are not called to look at people in difficult situations and immediately apply rules to their lives. Rather, we are called to walk alongside people in difficult situations. We take a longer and more patient approach in order to invite them to understand and accept the Church’s doctrine and eventually come into full communion with the Church.

How does this actually play out?

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