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No One Is Practicing What the Catholic Hierarchy Preaches

April 8, 2016

The release of Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love) today speaks to Catholicism’s greatest secret: there is an immense chasm between church policy and what everyday Catholics practice. The law says one thing, but Catholics the world over behave according to their conscience. In his nine-chapter, approximately 250-page document that spans subjects from immigration to divorced and remarried Catholics to same-sex marriage, Francis is trying to bridge the gap between the two.

Said Jon O’Brien president of Catholics for Choice, “Francis suggests that church law should be applied compassionately and urges his brother bishops and priests to be more pastoral to congregants who are not following the law. Forty-six percent of Catholics believe that the church should recognize same-sex marriage. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active US Catholic women have used a form of contraception banned by the Vatican, and Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as other women. One in four Catholics has been divorced. If no one obeys a law, it suggests that the law is illegitimate.”

Continued O’Brien, “It’s significant that in ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ Francis recognizes that conscience is a priority. It’s an acknowledgement that people’s lives are vastly different than the letter of the law. But how you apply the law matters—it’s what drives people away. However, since he did not make any real change in this document, the reality is that Francis will have to sit down and make the effort to change the law in the future.

“Beyond not changing the actual doctrine, the final disappointment in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is that the devil is in the details. Francis again condemns the conscience-based decision to have an abortion, and he goes back to the party line about contraception—by reiterating the primacy of Humanae Vitae, the church abortion ban—to shore up any concerns that conservatives may have that real change is possible.

“But the fact is, real change is what Catholics practice in following their conscience every day. Francis’ pastoral approach is always welcome and a breath of fresh air from his predecessors. But talking about the law in a pastoral manner does not change doctrine, and it will not change the real practice of Catholics. We already make our decisions based on conscience. That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”