Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). The focus on the document is on renewing the evangelization efforts of the church, which he rightly envisions as the entire People of God. It is a document which does not shy away from examining how church structures, including the Vatican and the papacy, need to reform in order to make this renewal of evangelization possible.
The document does not discuss sexuality, gender, or LGBT issues. In fact, in chapter two, he outlines many of today’s social ills, and unlike the previous two popes, he does not single out any sexuality issues for discussion here. His only reference to these topics is a passing one, and noteworthy for NOT naming any hot-button issues such as same-gender marriage:
“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’. ” (chapter 2, section 66)
As we’ve noted before, Pope Francis may not be ready to make wholesale changes in church doctrine on LGBT issues, but he does seem intent on establishing reforms which can eventually lead to such needed changes. While sexuality is not discussed in this new document, there are many topics in it that can pave the way for the church hierarchy to renew itself in regard to these concerns. I’ve excerpted a few of them below. In the coming week, we hope to provide more analysis and commentary on this newly-released document as it becomes available.
1. Reforming the Papacy
“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.” (chapter 1, section 32)
2. Updating long-standing traditions which have become irrelevant
“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’. Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation ‘so as not to burden the lives of the faithful’ and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas ‘God’s mercy has willed that we should be free’. This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a the reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.” (chapter 1, section 43)
3. On welcoming all to church and not withholding communion
“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (chapter 1, section 47)
4. The importance and role of the laity in the church
“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making. Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.” (chapter 2, section 102)
5. The call for all to be evangelizers
“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation. As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with aninstinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression.
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” (chapter 3, sections 119-120)
6. The importance of dialogue and listening
“In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.” (chapter 3, section 128)
7. Changing the church’s teaching on social issues and the importance of science“The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions, so that they ‘will have greater impact on the complexities of current situations’. The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.” (chapter 4, section 182) “. . . neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems. Here I can repeat the insightful observation of Pope Paul VI: ‘In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. This is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country’. ” (chapter 4, section 184)
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry