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#TFImoments: Fr. Frank Morrisey, OMI, explains Pope Francis’ approach to family struggles

September 27, 2018
Pope Francis’ words and actions have had a profound impact on countless people of various backgrounds, interests, and beliefs. In the interviews for my upcoming documentary, The Francis Impact, I’ve heard some beautiful and concrete testimonies of this. So I created #TFIMOMENTS, a web series to share some of these profound and personal moments of connection with the pope.
When the highly anticipated apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia was issued by Pope Francis in April 2016, many commented that “a door had been opened.”
That door referred to the possibility, in some extraordinary cases, of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion—a door which had previously been closed by Pope John Paul II.
Many articles and blogs were subsequently written about whether or not Francis had the authority to “open” that door, and the debate became highly technical.
Often lacking in these commentaries, however, was a clear understanding of Francis’ pastoral approach that led him and the bishops at the 2015 synod on the family to make such a move.
Pope Francis did not “open the door” to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics because he desired that outcome per se. He opened that door because it’s the natural consequence of an incarnational pastoral accompaniment of persons living in complex situations.
This reorientation of the Church’s pastoral accompaniment is grounded on one of the central themes of Francis’ Petrine ministry: as he often says, “reality is greater than ideas.”
This principle “calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom,” Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium 231.
This principle can be applied to other reforms Francis has instituted, like the reform of the annulment process in 2015. The Francis Impact (to be released in the coming months) tells the story of a couple who had difficulty moving through the annulment process prior to Francis’ reforms. The process took years.
Distinguished canon lawyer Fr. Frank Morrisey, OMI, comments in the film on his role on the papal commission tasked by Francis to reform the procedures. As he says in this #TFImoment, Francis opened another door: “The door that Francis is opening is recognizing that the legal approach is not the only approach.”
A legal approach to a complex marital situation starts with a law or a principle and applies it to the persons. “Pope Francis,” says Fr. Frank, “is starting with the persons and moving up.”
The reforms, which Fr. Frank helped draft, streamlined the annulment process and assuaged the consciences of countless Catholics seeking a judgement.
Fr. Frank’s #TFImoment captures one of the most important principles for Pope Francis: reality is greater than ideas. It’s the hermeneutical key that has opened many of the doors we’ve walked through over the passed five and a half years.
For more information about The Francis Impact visit the official webpage.
Next #TFImoment: Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago
The Francis Impact poster

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