Pope Francis didn’t make any official changes to church doctrine in his recently published “Amoris Laetitia” — or “On Love in the Family”. But the Pope’s words are being broadly seen as a nudge in the direction of greater openness and tolerance by the church. Nonetheless the Pope’s words left room for interpretations that go against truly liberal policy concerning gay Catholics. While advising priests not to “throw stones” and cautioning them against “unjust discrimination” when it comes to gays and others living “irregular” life styles, the Pope told the priests to exercise their own discretion.
The ambiguity is startling: Do the Pope’s words imply there are cases that call for “just” discrimination? Is leaving the rules unstated and rather up to the “discretion” of local priests sound policy? Hasn’t that discretion — or lack of it — led the Catholic Church into its most vexing and damaging behavior? The lack of official policy change by Pope Francis is seen by some as a clear abdication of duty in light of the record of past priestly discretion — and the current pressing need for unambiguous policy change. Even more disturbing, in some interpretations, is the Pope’s admonition that by seeing things narrowly, the church “close(s) off the way of grace and growth” to those like gays and the divorced who, unwelcomed, might otherwise fall away. Some read this statement by the Pope as controversial and potentially backwards. Is the “growth” he mentions a synonym for change? Because if the new mandate is to welcome gays into the church so that they can gain grace by changing, that’s problematic.