Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa says pope’s proclamation does not change church doctrine

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Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa on Friday called Pope Francis’ landmark proclamation on marriage, sex and family life — titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love” — an intriguing, engaging, and delightfully challenging expression of hope for married love. But he said it was no end-run around existing church doctrine on behavior that is “not consistent with the moral law.”

The 264-page exhortation encourages church ministers to “accompany” those who are out of step with church teachings, such as unmarried couples living together, same-sex partners or divorced and remarried couples. But Francis does not in any way change church doctrine opposing such arrangements, Vasa noted.

“It does not change any doctrine,” he said. “Marriage is still very beautifully defined as permanent, faithful and directed to the generation and upbringing of children.”

In the case of divorced and remarried couples, Vasa said those who are reading the pope’s exhortation as an easy remedy around the lengthy and rigorous church annulment process are mistaken. “That marriage does not go away. It has its own intrinsic perpetual nature,” he said.

“That being said, the path forward is to accompany that couple, affirming what is good in their relationship, and the Holy Father makes this point,” he said, adding that perhaps for ministers there can be a focus on the new couple’s present fidelity to each other.

“We tend to focus on the infidelity to the other spouse — that is a reality,” he said. But the exhortation asks church leaders to “encourage them to be caring parents to the children of this marriage and or the children of a previous marriage.”

That pastoral path, he said, could lead those who have remarried after a divorce to present themselves to the church tribunal for consideration of an annulment, a process that deeply examines the marriage, from its courtship to its unraveling. It requires a finding that the marriage is “substantially defective,” not just the wishes of a couple that has fallen out of love or doesn’t want to be married, he said.

The pope’s exhortation — the product of two synods of bishops, one in 2014 and one in 2015 — makes it clear that Francis affirms that marriage is between a man and a woman, Vasa said. The great lengths that Francis goes to encourage compassion and empathy does not signify an “anything-goes mentality,” he said.

Vasa pointed to a paragraph of the exhortation, where Francis writes, “the Synod Fathers observed that, ‘as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ ”

Vasa said that “nonetheless we have to strive to accompany everyone to see their own innate goodness and at the same time acknowledge that sometimes our behaviors are not consistent with the moral law.”

Vasa said the bulk of the document is likely to be criticized by more progressive Catholic Church voices.

“He’s not watering down the truth, he’s urging a compassionate education and catechesis on what the church teaches and why,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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