As Church welcomes all, marriage teachings remain unchanged

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JOHNSTON — Less than a week after “Amoris Laetitia’s” release, Father Ryan Connors had already read Pope Francis’ lengthy post-synod apostolic exhortation and was prepared to discuss its themes to a group of young adults at Theology on Tap.

Father Connors reassured his audience of roughly 60 people that no doctrine had been changed and that none of the Catholic Church's moral teachings had been altered.

“The truth is unchangeable,” Father Connors said, though adding that the Holy Father emphasizes some areas for new outreach, especially in better preparing couples for marriage and finding new effective means of communicating the Church’s teachings on the family.

“'The synod comes out of the fact that there are difficulties in this area of Christian teaching,” Father Connors said.

On April 8, Pope Francis released “Amoris Laetitia,” which translates as “The Joy of Love,” in the wake of two synods of bishops that met in Rome in 2014 and 2015 to discuss the modern challenges facing the family, and to seek pastoral practices to accompany families in their faith journeys.

During the synods, many secular media commentators focused of the usual hot-button topics of same-sex marriage, contraception, and divorce, particularly on the debate as to whether Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church without an annulment can receive holy Communion.

Several secular media news outlets, as well as some Catholic news sources, said the document opens the door for some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, after a period of discernment with a pastor, to receive Communion. Father Connors said during his April 14 talk that that claim is a misreading of the document.

“Pope Francis strongly says that the Church's teaching on marriage can't change,” said Father Connors, who seemed to be in agreement with other commentators who have said that the pope is calling for the Church to accompany families and strike a less judgmental posture for those living in irregular situations.

“The pope says we have to reach out to everyone, without exception,” Father Connors said. “There is no class of people who are no longer welcome in the Church, who are excluded from God’s mercy or from whom the invitation to conversion should not be advanced.”

“Everybody is to be offered the Gospel and the chance for conversion,” Father Connors said.

Much of what Pope Francis says in the document, Father Connors said, is directed at priests. The Holy Father is challenging pastors to be pastorally sensitive, accompanying and helping the lay faithful rather than imposing moral edicts from on high.

For example, Father Connors said Pope Francis stresses that the precise academic language of moral theology — such as saying that an unmarried cohabiting couple is “living in sin” or a civilly remarried Catholic living in a "permanent state of adultery" — may not be appropriate for preaching from the pulpit.

“He’s saying there are better ways to talk to people in those situations,” Father Connors said. “I think he’s right about that.”

Pope Francis, who quotes St. Thomas Aquinas and incorporates themes from St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in the document, does not offer specific new prescriptions for pastoral practices, but Father Connors said the pope recognizes that many people in today’s cultural environment are unfamiliar with the Church’s teachings on marriage and family.

Father Connors said the central message of “Amoris Laetitia” is essentially “How do we explain that teaching to the people of our time? How do we better explain to the people of today the Christian teaching on marriage?”

Several people who attended the Theology on Tap at Uncle Tony’s Pizza & Pasta Restaurant in Johnston said Father Connors helped them to better understand Pope Francis’ message in “Amoris Laetitia.”

“Although the pope is open to certain things, he’s not going to overthrow doctrine or anything like that. I’m glad Father Connors explained that,” said Adam Sabalewski, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church in Cranston.

Mary Colman, a North Providence resident, said Father Connors’ presentation motivated her to want to read the document on her own.

“I think he did an excellent job in showing how Pope Francis wants us to approach difficult topics in a loving way,” Colman said.

To read “Amoris Laetitia,” visit

http://tinyurl.com/zlxbta4.

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