Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pope Francis’ "The Joy of Love" Falls Short

By Gina Messina-Dysert

Note: This commentary was first published April 12, 2016 by Feminism and Religion.

It seems that Pope Francis has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love; and while he is taking steps in a positive direction, he still needs to spend time processing Farley’s words. With his new statement, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards “the other” but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican. He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just and maintains the idea of complementarity rejecting women’s roles and capabilities outside of the home.

The document was developed based on information gathered from the “Synod of the Family” and addresses married life, family life, singleness, the education of children and procreation. What is significant about Amoris Laetitia is the acknowledgement that “the church has proposed a far too abstract and artificial theological idea of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.”

In Section 305, the document discusses “irregular family situations” that conflict with Catholic teaching such as divorce, civil marriage or remarriage. These “irregular family situations” exclude Catholics from receiving communion and is an incredible source of pain – a branding with a scarlet letter.

Parish priests are offered a solution in to this section in Footnote #351. It states, “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” With this, the priest may grant communion at his discretion in an effort to help those sinners “grow in the faith and life of the church.”

As a child of divorce – a very painful event because of the Church’s stance – I appreciate that Pope Francis is taking a more pastoral approach in recognizing the many ways family is possible. However, it is critical that the Vatican move away from language such as “tolerance” for the “weak” and instead focus on a message that encompasses love and compassion without judgement.

While many are praising Amoris Laetitia, and it may be a baby step in the right direction, it has continued the idea that those who make choices to be in healthy relationships or leave those that are not are sinners, not fully human. Likewise, it continues a highly negative tone for the LGBTQ community and does not acknowledge women’s value outside of marriage.

Pope Francis is working hard to walk the line between conservative and liberal Catholics. Perhaps instead of trying to please everyone, he should find courage to continue to consider his own blindspots, spend more time with Farley’s words, and recognize that the true message of the Gospels is not about tolerance, but about liberation for every person. “Jesus was all about opening the door to possibility — for everyone — in the name of good news — for everyone.”

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter@FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website


  1. Good Pastors can glean some valuable tools from the document, but not enough to reverse the exodus.

  2. What I liked best about Amoris Laetitia is at the beginning, number 3, capital letters mine. From the footnote, I understand they have been saying these points for a while. Should we take this literally?

    3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would
    make it clear that NOT ALL DISCUSSIONS OF DOCTRINAL, MORAL OR PASTORAL ISSUES NEED TO BE SETTLED BY INTERVENTIONS OF THE MAGISTERIUM. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude VARIOUS WAYS OFINTERPRETING some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us
    fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region,moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”. Footnote 3

    3 Concluding Address of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 26-27 October 2015, p. 13; cf. Pontifical Biblical
    Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della sessione plenaria 1979 della Pontificia Commissione Biblica, Turin, 1981;
    Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 44; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990), 52: AAS 83 (1991), 300; Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 69, 117: AAS 105 (2013), 1049, 1068-69.

  3. Gina...since you reject Catholic teachings, why don't you leave your Catholic college post and convert to another religion ?

    Name your price.......$$$ ?