MUMBAI, India – Sometimes when you look at the way Amoris Laetitia is received in different countries, it appears there are different documents being discussed.
A case in point is the address by Cardinal Oswald Gracias at an Oct. 13-15 conference in Mumbai on Pope Francis’s 2016 document on the family.
In a nine-page speech, Gracias does not mention communion for the divorced-and-remarried, only tangentially touches on homosexuality, and doesn’t seem to think the issues which dominate debate over Amoris Laetitia in the United States and Western Europe are really that central to the document.
In fact, as presented by the Archbishop of Bombay, the pope’s document is nothing but a full-throated defense of traditional Catholic teaching.
“Amoris Laetitia is an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love that is generous, committed, faithful and patient,” the cardinal said.
Gracias quoted Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput: “We’ve compromised too cheaply. We’ve hungered after assimilating and fitting in. And in the process, we have been bleached out and absorbed by the culture we were sent to make holy.”
Although the speech was aimed at the bishops of India, the views of Gracias hold weight around the world. Not only is he president of the bishops’ conference of India, he is the head of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, the regional body.
Significantly, he also is a member of the C9 Council of Cardinals established by Francis to advise him on Curial reform and other Church issues.
In his view, Amoris Laetitia is not a document calling for compromise with the world, but a call for the Christian family to “welcome, radiate, and show the world the love and presence of Christ.
“Unfortunately, today there is a growing cultural, ideological, social and spiritual crisis faced by many families due to the negative influence of the mass media, the hedonistic culture, relativism, materialism, individualism, secularism, atheistic ideologies and an excessive and selfish liberalization of morals,” Gracias said.
“Family life is affected by a growing number of married couples asking for separation from the marital bond and civil divorce, and also many couples choosing live-in relationships without making a marital commitment. One also observes an increasing number of single parent families,” the cardinal continued. “There are also many families living in poverty and deprivation of the basic necessities of life, and with little or no access to basic healthcare and education for their children. Women are unfortunately most affected as they face discrimination and oppression from within the family setup and also in society.”
Garcias points to a “spiraling” rate of atrocities and violence against women in India, including so-called honor killings, murders over dowry disputes, acid attacks, gender-specific abortion, and human trafficking.
“Further, street children in India are not cared for and supported by their families and their loved ones, mainly because of their difficult economic situation; they do not have sufficient food and water to survive. Many of them are sexually, physically and mentally abused by their parents, and living on the streets makes them vulnerable to being further exploited to child labor and prostitution,” Gracias added.
This laundry list could be made in countries throughout the developing world, and shows how some of the more publicized debates taking place in the West over the document can be seen as missing the point for the rest of the world.
This is not to say Gracias ignores issues such as marital breakdown and the change of family structure taking place all over, including in Asia; but he does not read Francis’s commentary on the phenomenon through the same partisan lens.
The cardinal says the Church needs “to listen with sensitivity” to those in difficult marital situations, quoting Amoris Laetitia that “all these situations require a constructive response seeking to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel. These couples need to be welcomed and guided patiently and discreetly.”
However, he is not afraid to point out the negative effect that modern media is having on family life.
“Infidelity, sexual activity outside of marriage, and the absence of a moral and spiritual vision of the marriage covenant are depicted uncritically, while positive support is at times given to divorce, contraception, abortion, and same sex unions. Such portrayals are detrimental to the common good of society,” Gracias said, reiterating that in today’s secularized society, “we face a struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death.
“Amoris Laetitia makes it very clear that since the value of human life is so great, no one can justify a decision to terminate the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb. Similarly, the Church asserts the right to a natural death without aggressive treatment and euthanasia,” the cardinal continued.
He also pointed to the “grave ethical problems” presented by new technologies allowing for artificial reproduction, especially those that lead to the destruction of embryos, which Gracias calls “unacceptable.”
He said parents and couples who choose to adopt children, or serve as foster parents, are creating “a powerful sign of family love and an opportunity to give witness to one’s faith and to restore the dignity of a son or daughter to a person who has been deprived of this dignity.”
In the end, Gracias said Amoris Laetitia is calling on families to proactively live the Gospel, and be protagonists of the Church’s mission of evangelization.
“Every family member should enthusiastically and joyfully proclaim the good news to people everywhere, moving out from our own comfort zones in order to reach all the peripheries,” he said.
“We need to reawaken the individual moral conscience of people and also the moral conscience of society, the thirst for God and consequently a return to the culture of life.”