Will Pope Francis’ manifesto on family bring change to the church?

Read the Full Transcript


    Today's pronouncement from the pope on family life was two years in the making. Pope Francis explicitly called for the church to be less judgmental.

    Instead, he said more support is needed for single and unmarried parents, as well as same-sex couples. Divorced or remarried Catholics shouldn't be judged or discriminated against in church life. Priests can be merciful when it comes to delivering communion. But he didn't change doctrine on same-sex marriage or on the role of contraception.

    We sample some of the reaction now with Amanda June Gargus. She is the student administrator at campus ministry at Georgetown University's Law Center. Gloria Purvis is the host of a radio show on the EWTN's Catholic Television Network called "Morning Glory." And Marianne Duddy-Burke is the executive director of Dignity USA, which works on support changes for the LGBT community in the Catholic Church.

    And we welcome all three of you to the program.

    So, let's begin by — I just want to ask each one of you, what do you think of this latest statement by Pope Francis?

    Let me start with you, Ms. Gargus.

  • AMANDA JUNE GARGUS, Georgetown University:

    I think it's a great thing.

    I think it falls well within what the pope has been saying all year in this year of mercy of being in love with our neighbors and how we show mercy towards the people around us, so, the saints and the sinners, those that conform with how we see God's love and those who may not necessarily be acting in the way that maybe traditional Catholics tend to think of the church acting.


    Gloria Purvis, what about you? What was your reaction?

  • GLORIA PURVIS, Global Catholic Network:

    My reaction was, this is quite a merciful message. It had a lot for everyone.

    I think it was a challenge for everyone. He clearly speaks within the confines of the church's understanding of marriage, faithful, fruitful, faithful forever, and yet, at the same time, he says we need to be merciful to everyone, walk with them.

    And one of favorite lines in the exhortation is where he says love coexists with imperfection. And so I think there is a hopeful message for all of us. We all fall short of perfection. But if we're willing to listen and think with the mind of the church and try to form our consciences properly, the church is there with us.


    Marianne Duddy-Burke, what about you? What did you think when you read this?


    Yes, I find it to be a very uneven document. There are certainly places where it soars. I love the emphasis on respecting the formed consciences of so many of us and pastoral care, starting from the needs of the person.

    I think those are fantastic and really consistent with a lot of what Pope Francis has been about. And then there are areas where it really falls short of what I think people were hoping for, and that's certainly true on the issue of LGBT people, where there really isn't a lot of progress in this piece.


    What were you expecting him to say in that regard?


    Well, I think what was most encouraging about this Synod process was at the end of the first session, when there was some beautiful language that came out about LGBT people and how we should — our gifts should be welcomed and honored by the church and how commitment between same-sex couples was — could be a sign of real grace.

    And that language was rolled back very quickly, but I think there was some hope that Pope Francis might take at least some of that and move it forward a bit. And he really doesn't.


    Amanda June Gargus, what about — whether it's the language on same-sex marriage on the LGBT, that affect the LGBT community, or on the statement broadly, where do you think it could have gone further than it did?


    Well, I think the important thing to remember when it comes to documents like this is that the pope isn't in a position when making these types of statements to change church doctrine.

    So, we have to be very realistic our expectations of what's going to come out of these sessions and out of these speeches. But I think that one thing that he didn't touch on that I think is very pervasive and very obvious is the church's role with contraception.

    We have seen the pope make statements about contraception, particularly in Central and South America, with the current issues of the Zika virus, but we don't see him talking more broadly about how families should be treating contraception. Is that still the church's doctrine? Are we going to remain in that vein? Or are we going to have a more fluid concept of when contraception is appropriate and not?

    But I think he at least touched on it somewhat when talking about the importance of sex education, and that that was an important aspect of child development. But I think he could have gone a step further in helping Catholics, helping everyday Catholics understand exactly what the role of contraception is going to be in our community going forward.


    Gloria Purvis, what about the language or not — the missing language on contraception?


    Well, I think it was there when he was talking about that each child is to be welcomed and that the mother can dream about the child with God.

    What I would like to say, what I would have liked to have seen — and we talked about structures of sin — is the consideration that perhaps how society is set up to make the male as the model of perfection is actually something that is contrary to us as women.

    So, that is why we think that our fertility or motherhood is the enemy of our progress. It's a lot of times because of how high society is set up. And I would like to see us challenge that setup, because I think there's nothing defective about women. There's nothing detective in our fertility, but society is defective in its view of us.


    So, how would you have liked to have seen him change that concept?


    I would like to have seen him specifically say, women, you are not defective because of your ability to bear children, and, in fact, society needs to make more places available for you, in respect of that awesome gift that you have.

    If the human person — if the economy exists to serve the human person, so much so that the economy exists to serve the human family, and we need to make sure women can participate in that economy.


    Marianne Duddy-Burke, what effect do you think, what practical effect do you think this is going to have? He spoke about the role of individual priests in interpreting this and being more compassionate. What do you — how do you think priests are going to look at this?


    Well, I think this has really far-ranging impact, both within the church and at the level of policy all across the globe, certainly in the area of pastoral care.

    I hope that it will lead to less dogmatic interaction with people across the board. I hope that, you know, there's more of a sense that the church is first and foremost here to help care for people and help us care for each other, and that that really needs to be the starting point.

    And I think there is a lot of that kind of language there. I think that we really have to see what the response is going to be certainly at the level of the bishops and cardinals, because that trickles down to what happens in the everyday lives of where people encounter the church in its pastors and in each other, that pastoral care often comes from the people of the church giving it to one another.




    So, that level, I think the responsiveness has often been there, mostly been there. It's really at the level of the hierarchy where we start struggling a little bit more with rigidity.


    Well, Amanda June Gargus, let me pick up on that point.

    How much do you think is going the change in — either in the teaching, the decision-making by priests, by bishops, by individual Catholics, as a result of this?


    I would like to hope that there's going to be some change, that priests are going to start using this as a guide for how to deal with married and divorced Catholics especially, since that was a huge part of the pope's message.

    I think you're going to see a lot of more liberal priests using this as an opportunity to advance their — already their feelings on it. They're going to see this as an OK to go forward.

    But I think, for us everyday Catholics, for the ones who aren't in the priesthood, I think this should be the point where we see our role as evangelicals, as part of the clergy of Christ, as it were, to love our neighbor and to make sure that we are protecting the family, that we're guiding the family, that we're loving the family, but we're also loving those who may not conform to our particular ideas about the family, and that we're showing the love of Christ in that environment as well.


    And, Gloria Purvis, what do you see changing as a result of this?


    Well, I think, really, it's a challenge to the priests, because it is an awesome responsibility to walk with the sheep, if you will, and to keep us on the straight path.

    I don't like the terms liberal or conservative Catholic. I like the terms just truth. What is the truth of our teaching? And it is not compassionate to waive the teaching to make people feel comfortable.

    I think what the pope is calling the priests to do is to walk with each of the sheep wherever they are and help us to grow in holiness, which means properly forming our conscience and being willing to listen. And the priest is going to have to be a bride of Christ and have the heart of a mother in dealing with some very troubled children. So, that's what I think is going to change.


    Well, we thank all three of you for helping us look through, think through what it is that the pope has said in this important statement.

    Gloria Purvis, thank you. Amanda June Gargus and Marianne Duddy-Burke, we appreciate it. Thank you.

Listen to this Segment