Patrick Archbold is calling it the “exhortation of desolation.” Louie Verrecchio thinks it will undermine settled Catholic doctrine. And Ann Barnhardt thinks the title means “The Joy of Sodomy.” (Oh, and Steve Skojec seems to be leaning toward agreeing with her on Facebook.) What else could I be talking about other than Pope Francis’s pending post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia? Not since Humanae Vitae has a papal document caused so much anxiety among so many people, though unlike Humanae, Amoris likely won’t have much to say regarding doctrine. Instead, it is expected to restate most — if not all — of the “conclusions” reached during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, only with more words. If the reports are true and the document does turn out to be 200+ pages, then it is highly doubtful that most Catholics will even bother to read it. Instead, “experts” of all ideological stripes will be falling over each other to declare what the exhortation “really means” for the Church and her faithful, thus contributing to the already dense atmosphere of confusion surrounding Catholic doctrine on marriage, the family, and sexuality.
The whole fiasco opens up an interesting opportunity for traditional Catholics. Will the Pope’s words finally alienate a significant number of conservatives into going “full trad”? Or does the fact that so many traditionalists are damning the exhortation before it’s even been released just feed the ongoing narrative that traditional Catholicism is comprised largely of close-minded, merciless hypocrites who — to use an old cliche — believe themselves to be more Catholic than the Pope? Traditional Catholics could do themselves, and their apostolate, a great favor by refraining from hyperbole, hysterics, and hate by instead offering up a thoroughgoing, traditionally rooted analysis of Amoris Laetitia in the light of the Church’s extant and infallible magisterium. Such an analysis will require a great deal of restraint if it is to be taken seriously, but it is an analysis which could prove to be a great gift to the universal Church if framed charitably while expressing itself firmly.
Now, do I expect such an analysis to be forthcoming? Probably not, at least not from any of the “mainline” traditionalist outlets. I do, however, harbor the hope that the Society of St. Pius X, which has charitably critiqued Pope Francis’s official statements in the past, can bring the full weight of its theological learning to bear on the matter. Perhaps others might follow the Society’s example and open up a serious-minded discussion of the exhortation’s contents, not to score potshots but to help guide the faithful during this tumultuous period in Church history. That’s what I am praying for at least.