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Focus: Insights

A new light on reading
moral theology

Christian Hennecke

Published five years ago, the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia tackles many questions about human love and family life from a fresh perspective and its approach has sometimes encountered misunderstanding and even opposition. Yet, it is not a question of a break with Tradition but rather a developing and deepening. The author, who studied moral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome), now coordinates the Hildesheim (Germany) pastoral diocesan office. He is known in German speaking countries for his publications on the way of being Church in today’s world.

The genesis of Amoris Laetitia
Pope Francis set out a clear agenda in 2014 when he announced a Synod on The Pastoral Challenges for the Family in the Context of Evangelization. Although initially many failed to notice, he envisaged that the chosen methodology would put into question the usual universal synodal procedures. Local Churches were invited to ask people and families about the concerns and challenges of families today. It was an existential approach that took the sensus fidelium seriously. 

At first it looked like business as usual - collect data for the Episcopal Conference that would then set out a series of ideas to bring to the Synod. But Francis meant something else: He wanted the widest possible participation of the people of God. 

After a first moment of uncertainty and bewilderment, we started working in our diocese. Given time deadlines, we launched online consultations and were amazed at the result. Individuals, couples and associations ‘involved’ in the church responded. 

What came out in their contributions was a clear divergence between the magisterium’s teaching and lived practice. Their well-considered submissions in line with the message of the Gospel surprised us. All this demonstrated to us how the bold challenge launched by Gaudium et spes is still relevant today.  It calls for the signs of the times to be interpreted in a manner “intelligible to each generation' (n.4). It is not enough to repeat an ‘eternal’ teaching. A constant learning process is needed. 

Does the Church learn her evangelical doctrine in a constantly new way? This is exactly how the Council saw it: ‘With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age and to judge them in the light of the word of God. In this way, revealed truth can always