Action Alert!

Beware of false compassion in implementing Amoris Laetitia

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 13, 2017

Can you name someone—someone you know personally—who has divorced, remarried, and is now an active Catholic parishioner, receiving Communion regularly? (For now let’s not worry about whether or not these individuals have obtained annulments. You probably couldn’t be certain about that in any case; it’s very unlikely that you’ve seen the paperwork.)

Perhaps you know more than one person who fits that description. I can think quickly of three. All of them are men.

Maybe my experience is atypical. But I doubt it. Statistically speaking, men are more likely than women to remarry after a divorce. And that’s just one way in which men typically fare better than women after the breakdown of a marriage. Divorced woman are disproportionately likely to have financial problems, health problems, emotional problems. In a word, they are apt to be women in need.

If Catholic pastors adopt a more open attitude toward divorce, along the lines suggested by Amoris Laetitia, will that attitude benefit the people most in need? As a practical matter, if pastors make a special point of welcoming divorced-and-remarried Catholics, will the benefits flow to the spouses who are abandoned, or to those who abandoned them?

Since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, much has been written about women who have been abandoned by one man and subsequently formed a new union with another. For every wife who is cruelly abandoned, there is a husband who cruelly abandoned her. He, too, might feel more comfortable if the Church relaxes her traditional insistence on the permanence of the marriage bond. Should he?

Those hypothetical cases provide strong arguments for compassion. But such cases are exceptional.

If women typically suffer more than men after a divorce, the children of a broken home often suffer even more. What sort of message do those children receive, when they see their father, who deserted them to live with another woman, sitting in the front pew with his attractive new partner, while they huddle in the back with their mother, all dressed in second-hand clothes?

The fundamental message of Amoris Laetitita is a call for compassionate care of families in need. But if the implementation of the papal document is boiled down to a matter of pastoral routine—as most Vatican admonitions are—the net result could be to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: tcflanagan - Oct. 18, 2017 1:28 PM ET USA

    This talk of men deserting women for another woman is a bit misleading. It should be remembered, I think, that wives initiate divorces far more often than husbands do (according to a 2015 study, it was 69% to 31%).

  • Posted by: MatJohn - Oct. 14, 2017 6:59 PM ET USA

    Sexual gratification of the spouses. Bingo!!

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 13, 2017 11:36 PM ET USA

    So far, any proper doctrinal criticism of Amoris, ch.8 and its lack of clear uniformity with the teachings of the Church, was rejected as being 'too rigid,' 'too legalistic,' 'lacking of mercy' or 'lacking pastoral concern.' But you make an excellent point showing how it opens wide the possibility of a one-sided and fake 'compassion' that only aggravates the misery of divorce. Also, Amoris leaves the impression that children of divorce are not as important as sexual gratification of the spouses.

  • Posted by: momtomany128421 - Oct. 13, 2017 7:41 PM ET USA

    I can think of several people suffering because of this. Excellent point!