VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis’ document on the family reflects an “organic development” of church teaching and doctrine, said Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, theologian and participant in both synods that dealt with the topic.
“There are true innovations, but no break” in tradition, the cardinal told reporters during a news conference at the Vatican April 8 presenting the apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).
The document emphasizes the need for greater reflection and discernment by pastors and Catholic couples in so-called “irregular” situations as they look for ways they can participate more deeply in church life, he said.
Proper discernment is nothing new, the cardinal told another reporter. It has always been the serious duty of the lay faithful and their pastors or confessors. Everyone is responsible, he said, because “you cannot play with the sacraments, you cannot play with the conscience.”
Those in a broken marriage must honestly examine their conscience before God, he said, and reflect on their role in the marriage’s breakdown or whether it was canonically valid in the first place.
A married couple, both philosophy professors, spoke at the news conference about their impressions of the exhortation.
Giuseppina De Simone said the pope’s tone and style made it feel like he was taking people “by the hand to discover the beauty of our families — imperfect, fragile, but extraordinary because they are supported in their daily journey by the love of the Lord who never tires, doesn’t renege, and makes everything new.”
She said the text is an invitation for people to step away from the noise, confusion and discouragements in the world, and to look, listen and truly appreciate “the treasure we have in our hands, the great good there is in the normalcy of our lives.”
So many problems and crises in families, she said, grow out of an inability to make time for the other and look at others with mercy and respect.
Families and love are a “dynamic process” that require “struggle and rebirth, reinventing itself and always starting over,” she said.