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Pope Francis Exhorts Church to Be Less Uniform and More Universal

ICE Graveyard 12/04/2016 Sébastien Maillard

© Provided by The Huffington Post "Following Francis" is a monthly blog on the latest happenings of Pope Francis. It is prepared exclusively for The WorldPost by Sébastien Maillard, Vatican correspondent for La Croix, Rome.
ROME -- It is the lengthiest document of this pontificate yet. "Amoris Laetitia" -- "The Joy of Love" -- was published on April 8 and is over 260 pages long. But nowhere, even in the footnotes, does Pope Francis' exhortation on family life and marriage explicitly set any clear new magisterial rule.
"Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium," he cautions from the very beginning.
"Neither the synod nor this exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases," he adds in the eighth chapter, the most sensitive of this document, which deals with the Catholic Church's attitude toward people who have divorced and civilly remarried. "What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases."

What is normal for one bishop is almost scandalous for another

The clear message is that Rome will not settle all cases. Francis' document was issued after a two-year dispute among bishops, whom he had gathered from all over the world in 2014 and 2015 in advisory forums called synods. Deciding whether the divorced and remarried could receive communion was not just the media's focus -- it was what the bishops discussed most intensely during those meetings.
They were divided on this issue. Pope Francis acknowledged it at the end of the second synod: "What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous -- almost! -- for a bishop from another ... what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion."
"Amoris Laetitia" does not bring confusion but raises the complexity of family matters, which require a patient and thorough understanding of each individual case. No situation is plainly black or white, the pope wrote: "The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment."
Francis is putting into practice the decentralization of the church that he called for in previous exhortations.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But the church does not apply double standards either. "General rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations," Francis wrote. "At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule."
Francis' approach is, in a way, similar to the so-called "flexicurity" economic model pioneered by Denmark, which tackles both the flexibility of the labor market and the problem of securing employment. Here, doctrinal security on marriage goes along with pastoral flexibility for the divorced, those preparing to marry and those just married.
In practice, the key concept for this flexibility in Jorge Bergoglio's very Jesuit exhortation is "discernment." It allows one's conscience to reexamine its own acts and to decide truthfully and freely. The role of the church's pastors is to facilitate this questioning while avoiding any judgments: "It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community," the pope wrote.

Inculturation vs. indoctrination

In the same way, another key Jesuit concept used in "Amoris Laetitia" is inculturation. "Each country or region ... can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs," wrote the pope. "Cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle ... needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied."
As the second synod came to an end in October 2015, Francis mentioned the importance of inculturation in his concluding remarks: "Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures."
He contrasted this attitude against the one taken by "those who would indoctrinate [the Gospel] in dead stones to be hurled at others," while repeating that "dogmatic questions [remain] clearly defined by the church's magisterium."
No situation is plainly black or white.

By leaving space for local inculturation, by allowing time for personal discernment, Francis is putting into practice the decentralization of the church that he called for in previous exhortations. His challenge is to encourage doctrinal unity in the diverse community of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
Through the guidelines put forward in this document, Francis, who defined himself as from "the ends of the Earth" is moving his church to be less "uniformized" by Rome alone and to become more pastorally plural and creative on the ground.
In a nutshell, this means a less Roman but more Catholic Church; Catholicism, of course, originally meant "universal."
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