For many people, the Catholic perspective on marriage and family life is a fraught subject. Official statements and, to varying degrees, the work of professional theologians and popular thinkers can seem to fall short of the complex, lived realities and diversity of familial circumstances in the lives of members of the Body of Christ. Too often, we are presented with an idealized depiction of “the Christian family”: the pious nuclear family modeled on the Holy Family.
It is well known that, in this model, those who are divorced, especially if remarried, are left out. However, the ramifications go even further: Limiting the view of the family to this single image means we are left without any meaningful recognition of the familial commitments of single adults. Also missed are the importance of relationships with and responsibilities to our parents, potential siblings and extended families, including in-laws. For many Catholics, especially women, the corollary discussions of gender become particularly painful.
With “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis offers a refreshing departure from this oft-repeated model. While not the bulk of the document, he offers a radical shift in tone regarding gender and feminism. Catholic teaching on gender upholds gender complementarity, which maintains that men and women have distinct roles, even characteristics, grounded in their biological sex. For example, St. John Paul II’s “Mulieris Dignitatem” framed femininity as linked to motherhood, which is necessarily compassionate and nurturing, regardless of whether or not an individual woman is actually a mother. One consequence has been that mainstream feminism has often been viewed as suspect in Catholic circles because it seeks to modify gendered roles in families and is seen at the popular level to be synonymous with sexual liberation. While Pope Francis does not reject complementarity, he begins to move this conversation in a new direction.
Source: America Magazine