Amoris Laetitia:
A Six-Point Paradigm Shift








The Tablet, February 10, 2018

Amoris offers a new and holistic response for family ministry

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has argued that the Pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, marks a “revolutionary” departure for the Church in the way it interacts with and ministers to the family. He also responded to critics of the exhortation, saying they were too bound up in an “idealistic understanding of marriage and the family”.

Family life, he said in the Von Hugel Institute Annual Lecture at St Edmund’s College Cambridge on Friday evening, is “dramatically different from the past”. He said it was leaving many people “disoriented and uncertain about their lives to the point that the Church must find a new way to minister to them”.

In describing the new shape that this ministry should take, Cupich built on the idea offered recently, but not developed, by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. Amoris Laetitia, Parolin said, marks a “paradigm shift” in the thinking of the Church.

Thomas Kuhn’s celebrated 1962 work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, argued that a scientific revolution is caused by a “paradigm shift” sparked by a radical new theory. Cupich for his part says Amoris Laetitia “represents a major shift in our ministerial approach that is nothing short of revolutionary”.

“Amoris”, he says, is “the Holy Father’s call to action”. Francis offers a new way of relating to families today, he says, by introducing a set of “hermeneutical principles”. Identifying six principles, he says these together force the “paradigm shift” in question and all have profound implications for the Church’s ministry.







[1] Firstly, Cupich says, the family is a privileged place, chosen by God, to reveal how he relates to humanity. Married life is “a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities” he says quoting AL38, and so the Church must move away from presenting marriage in an “abstract and idealised’ way.

The implication of this is that “the manifestation of God’s self-revelation is not restricted to those who meet the Church’s marital ideals. It can be found in ‘true natural marriage [and] the forms of marriage found in other religious traditions’ (AL77).” He then quotes AL 301: “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace”. All this, Cupich insists, is part of the enormous paradigm shift that Francis has set in motion.



[2] The second principle, he says, must be that much greater attention be given to lay voices. “In a genuinely synodal Church,” he says, “There is no hierarchical distinction between those with knowledge and those without”.

Authoritarian or paternalistic ways of dealing with people must be replaced by – his key word – “accompaniment”. The new direction envisions “ministry as accompaniment”, in a process that involves a process of listening and learning. The accompaniment, he says, is also “an act of forming Church teaching”, and this is “revolutionary”.



[3] This brings Cupich to identify the third principle in the paradigm shift as the recognition of the consciences of the faithful as an essential element in the task of discerning what God is revealing. Decisions of conscience made by married couples and families “represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives”. The voice of conscience, he continues, “could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal”, while nevertheless (quoting from AL303), calling a person to “new stages of growth”. This “fully embraces” the understanding of conscience found in the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, Cupich argues, and “it is hard to overstate the significance of this hermeneutical shift”.



[4] This leads to Cupich’s fourth principle, that the Church’s understanding of God’s plan for marriage must incorporate the “insights of the faithful”. It must attend to the “concrete situations of real families”, and invite the lay faithful to “help the whole Church understand and promote marriage and family life as a source of true fulfilment”. They are the ones who constantly navigate the tensions between the “abstract ideal” and the “actual manifestation”, he says, and – of vital importance - their insights will help the Church articulate the divine plan for marriage and the family in a way that inspires hope.



[5] For his fifth principle, Cupich returns to the idea of “accompaniment”, pointing out that the “real shift” is towards a pastoral approach that creates a culture of “care, hospitality and tenderness” in the parish community, on behalf of “those who have been wounded”. He does not mention the vexed question of whether divorced and remarried couples should be able to receive communion, but he refers to AL299, that states such people “need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church but instead as living members”; and he points to the pathway offered by Francis in his letter to the Argentine bishops, since published in Acta Apostolica Sedes, which identifies the ways in which that can be made possible.

In a pointed footnote, given the opposition in parts of the Church to the teaching of AL, he refers to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 25, which states: “This religious submission of mind and will [to bishops] must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra”.



[6] The final principle making up the paradigm shift that Cupich attributes to Francis revolves around the central idea of mercy, which has implications both for pastoral practice and for doctrine. “The Church’s pastoral practice of accompanying others in mercy should inform and shape doctrinal development,” he says. “Doctrinal development is about remaining open to the invitation to see our moral teachings on marriage and family life through the lens of God’s omnipotent mercy.”

Because God has chosen the family as a privileged place to reveal “all [he] is doing in our time”, doctrine itself can develop as a result of the Church’s accompaniment of families.



Critics of the kind or degree of emphasis on mercy described here have pointed out the accompanying importance of the courageous acceptance of personal responsibility and readiness for personal sacrifice in family cohesion, especially in the light of contemporary cultural neglect of these virtues, but Cardinal Cupich does not touch on these questions. Neither does he make a single specific reference to children.

Waiting until his conclusion to address the critics of Amoris Laetitia, he claims some have misunderstood the document, because they have failed to adopt the “holistic” approach he offers here. “Instead of actually attending to the present reality of people’s lives today in all its complexity,” he argues, “they limit their scope to an idealistic understanding of marriage and family”.

Whether those critics will be satisfied or silenced by Cardinal Cupich’s approach laid out in detail here will soon be evident.







Cardinal Cupich launches “Amoris Laetitia” seminars for US bishops



Catholic World Report, February 12, 2018

Among the several theologians to present at the upcoming seminars is a former national board member of Call to Action and an advocate for the ordination of women priests and approval of artificial birth control.

Denver, Colo., Feb 12, 2018 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Chicago has invited some U.S. bishops to a series of conferences on the 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The seminars will be held at three Catholic colleges later this month.

According to a letter obtained by Catholic News Agency, the meetings, dubbed “New Momentum Conferences on Amoris Laetitia,” are designed to offer a “tailor-made program that goes from why Amoris Laetitia provides New Momentum for Moral Formation and Pastoral Practice to how to provide formative pastoral programs.”

“The aim is to gather fifteen to twenty Bishops to have a conversation with the aid of theologians on the related topics,” the letter said.

The letter, written by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, explains that the conferences are modeled after a seminar of bishops and theologians discussing Amoris Laetitia held at Boston College in October 2017.

“The seminar treated the full document giving particular focus to its reception in the multi-cultural and diverse environment that characterizes the Church in the United States,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.

“Both the bishops and the theologians universally agreed that our two-day seminar was an exercise in synodality, a walking together in which the Church both taught and listened. In fact, in keeping with the counsel of Pope Francis at the start of the 2014 synod, the Boston College participants spoke with candor and boldness, parrhesia, but they also listened with humility,” the letter explained.

The letter said that Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery on Laity, Family and Life, encouraged and endorsed the upcoming conferences, which will be held at Boston College, the University of Notre Dame, and Santa Clara University.

The upcoming seminars come in the wake of a speech given by Cardinal Cupich Feb. 9, at the Von Hügel Institute, at St. Edmund College, in Cambridge, England.

In that speech, Cardinal Cupich said that “Pope Francis is convinced of the need for a new ministerial approach to families as he looks at the challenges facing families in today’s world.”

He added that “some people misinterpret and misunderstand Amoris simply because they fail or refuse to take into account the present reality in all its complexity.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Archbishop Wilton Gregory are scheduled to speak at the upcoming Boston College seminar. Cardinals Joseph Tobin and Blase Cupich will present at the University of Notre Dame. Bishops Steven Biegler and Robert McElroy will present at Santa Clara University, according to the invitation.

Several theologians and a canon lawyer will also present at the upcoming seminars.

Among the theologians is Dr. Kate Ward, a professor at Marquette University. From 2012-2015, Ward was a national board member of Call to Action, a group that has called for the ordination of women to the priesthoodexpressed support for same-sex marriage, and said that the Church should re-evaluate its “position” on the use of artificial birth control.

From 2006-2009, Ward served as a national board member of Call to Action Next Generation, a youth affiliate of the organization. She chaired that board from 2008-2009.

In 2006, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then-prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, wrote that Call to Action’s activities “are in contrast with the Catholic Faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint. Thus to be a Member of this Association or to support it, is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith.”

Also scheduled to present is Dr. Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a theologian at Manhattan College.

Imperatori-Lee was also a presenter at the October seminar at Boston College. At that seminar, she criticized the Church’s “infantilization of the laity,” saying that “lay people are infantilized by a logic…where pastors serve as gatekeepers, offering permission for sacraments, rather than as counselors who accompany laypersons on their sacramental journeys.”

In a 2015 interview with the podcast Daily Theology, Imperatori-Lee described the late theologian and University of Notre Dame professor Fr. Richard McBrien as a mentor. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “McBrien advocated the ordination of women priests, an end to mandatory celibacy for priests, moral approval of artificial birth control, and decentralization of power in the church.”

In a 2016 essay in the magazine America, she wrote “any claim that there are only two kinds of humans, male and female, is simplistic.”

Msgr. Jack Alesandro, a canon lawyer from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, also presented at the Boston College seminar, and will present at the upcoming conferences.

At the 2017 seminar, Alesandro said that Amoris Laetitia “as a whole supports the idea that as time passes, sacramental marriages become more sacramental and therefore more indissoluble.”

Alesandro also said that Amoris Laetitia suggests new thresholds for the validity of consent to sacramental marriage. The document suggests “a superior capacity and resolve of the will is required of those entering sacramental marriage than of those entering a non-sacramental union,” he said.

He said the exhortation “is challenging judges in a tribunal process to discover whether both spouses, including the man, were at the time of the wedding truly capable at the time of tenderness in the sense described by the pope, the tenderness of a mother cradling her infant.”

“Spouses must be capable of entering a lifelong adventure, and able to renew it constantly if they are to exchange consent validly. It requires that they be friends on the journey. While they do not start out whole and complete, we know that, they must at least be able to grow into this vocation. If they’re incapable of that growth, or they’re really not committed to it, I don’t think they’re validly married, at least, not the Christian marriage.”

“Canon lawyers may find it difficult to get their juridical mind around love, if their thinking has become overly legal, which is another way of saying ‘secularized,’” he said.

According to the invitation, “there will be other theologians who will be invited to participate at one or more of the days.”

During his Feb. 9 speech, Cardinal Cupich said that Pope Francis has introduced a set of “hermeneutical principles” – principles of theological interpretation – that “force a paradigm shift” in the Church’s work with families.

Among the aspects of such a paradigm shift, Cupich said, is “rejecting an authoritarian or paternalistic way of dealing with people that lays down the law, that pretends to have all the answers, or easy answers to complex problems, that suggests that general rules will seamlessly bring immediate clarity or that the teachings of our tradition can preemptively be applied to the particular challenges confronting couples and families.”

Cupich further discussed the importance of discernment in conscience. The “voice of conscience—the voice of God…could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal, while nevertheless calling a person ‘to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized,’” he said, commenting on an excerpt from Amoris Laetitia.

The cardinal said that a pastoral, not “merely doctrinal,” approach is needed in work with families, because “the conscience based Christian moral life does not focus primarily on the automatic application of universal precepts. Rather, it is continually immersed in the concrete situations which give vital context to our moral choices.”

The result of such a pastoral approach, Cupich said, “is not relativism, or an arbitrary application of the doctrinal law, but an authentic receptivity to God’s self-revelation in the concrete realities of family life and to the work of the Holy Spirit in the consciences of the faithful.”

Further, the cardinal said, “doctrinal development is about remaining open to the invitation to see our moral teachings on marriage and family life through the lens of God’s omnipotent mercy.”

“Doctrine can develop as a result of the Church’s merciful accompaniment of families because God has chosen the family as a privileged place to reveal all that the God of mercy is doing in our time,” he added.

The cardinal concluded by saying that a failure to approach questions related to marriage and family life with a “holistic approach” has “led some critics to misinterpret and misunderstand Amoris. Instead of actually attending to the present reality of people’s lives today in all of its complexity, they limit their scope to an idealistic understanding of marriage and family.”

The letter inviting bishops to the upcoming conferences explained that transportation costs would be covered by “foundation grants.”

The Boston College event was sponsored by the Jesuit Institute, the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Cushman Foundation, Healey Foundation, and Henry Luce Foundation.

According to its tax forms, the Cushman Foundation provided the Archdiocese of Chicago a $12,300 grant in 2015 to fund periti, or theological experts, to the Synod of Bishops on the Family, in which then-Archbishop Blase Cupich participated.

The Henry Luce foundation has given at least $600,000 in grants to Commonweal Magazine since 2005, it has also given grants to a number of Catholic universities and theology programs. In 2007, it gave a $25,000 grant to the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, according to grant listings on the foundation website. It also gave a one-time $9,500 grant in 2015 to the Archdiocese of Chicago “to support communications during the Ordinary Synod of the Roman Catholic Church.”

The foundation’s website says it “seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.”

The Luce Foundation’s Theology program gives grants to “advance understanding of religion and theology.”

“Particular attention is given to work that rethinks what theology is and reimagines its contemporary significance; to research that creatively examines received assumptions about religion, secularity, and public culture; and to projects located at the intersections of theological inquiry and the multidisciplinary study of religion,” the foundation’s website says.

Sources told CNA that the USCCB is not involved in the New Momentum Conferences.

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not respond to questions before deadline.

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