Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Marriage and family life are blessings for individuals and for society, but both are filled with difficult choices that Catholic couples must be helped to face prayerfully and in the light of their consciences, Pope Francis said.

Unfortunately, too many people today confuse a rightly formed conscience with personal preferences dominated by selfishness, the pope said in a video message to an Italian meeting on “Amoris Laetitia,” his exhortation on the family.

“The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of conscience, which is always to be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of the individual” even when the individual’s decisions impact his or her marriage and family life, the pope said.

Repeating a remark he had made to the Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis said, “There are those who even speak of ‘egolatry,’ that is, the true worship of the ego on whose altar everything, including the dearest affections, are sacrificed.”

Confusing conscience with selfishness “is not harmless,” the pope said. “This is a ‘pollution’ that corrodes souls and confounds minds and hearts, producing false illusions.”

The conference sponsored by the Italian bishops’ conference was focused on “conscience and norm” in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation.

Diagnosing problems in the church’s outreach to married couples and families, Pope Francis had written, “We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life.”

“We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations,” he wrote in “Amoris Laetitia.” “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”

In his message to the meeting Nov. 11 in Rome, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must strengthen its programs “to respond to the desire for family that emerges in the soul of the young generations” and to help couples once they are married.

“Love between a man and a woman is obviously among the most generative human experiences; it is the leaven of a culture of encounter, and introduces to the present world an injection of sociality,” he said.

Marriage and family life are “the most effective antidote against the individualism that currently runs rampant,” he said, but it does not do one any good to pretend that marriage and family life are free from situations requiring difficult choices.

“In the domestic reality, sometimes there are concrete knots to be addressed with prudent conscience on the part of each,” he said. “It is important that spouses, parents, not be left alone, but accompanied in their commitment to applying the Gospel to the concreteness of life.”

Conscience, he said, always has God’s desire for the human person as its ultimate reference point.

“In the very depths of each one of us, there is a place wherein the ‘Mystery’ reveals itself, and illuminates the person, making the person the protagonist of his story,” he said. “Conscience, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, is this ‘most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths.’”

Each Christian, the pope said, must be “vigilant so that in this kind of tabernacle there is no lack of divine grace, which illuminates and strengthens married love and the parental mission.”


Bishops propose plan for marriage, family life ministry

A pair of wedding bands symbolizing the sacrament of marriage is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y. Pope Francis’ postsynodal apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), was released April 8. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — U.S. Catholic bishops acknowledged that Catholic families and married couples need more support from the church at large and hope to offer it by giving parishes plenty of resources through a pastoral plan for marriage and family life.

A proposal for such a plan was introduced to the bishops and approved on the second day of their annual fall assembly in Baltimore Nov. 14.

The pastoral plan was described by Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, a member of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, as a response to Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).

The bishop said he hoped the pastoral plan would encourage long-term implementation of the pope’s exhortation and also encourage a broader reading of it. Several bishops who spoke from the floor echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the document was more than just one chapter – referring to Chapter 8’s focus on the possibility of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion which gained a lot of media attention.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, said a pastoral plan focused on the exhortation lets the Catholic Church “seize control” of its message after the “blogosphere was forcing us to read it in another way.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, similarly noted that the exhortation’s Chapter 8 “got all the headlines” and he hoped a new plan based on the text would get more people to read the entire document and “read it slowly.”

A new pastoral plan for marriage and families would not be “the pastoral plan,” as in the be all end all addressing every detail, but it should provide a framework to help parishes work in this area, Bishop Malone said.

Discussion from the floor about this plan was overwhelmingly positive.

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, said the church should look for ways to lift up marriage and thank couples for all they do. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said the church should offer more than just marriage preparation programs and should provide something for couples after they are married.

They should know about marriage before they come to church to set up their wedding, he said, emphasizing that catechesis needs to start much earlier