Catholics grapple with new papal exhortation

What happened?

Pope Francis released his third apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), in which he aimed to “repropose” the call to holiness in everyday life. The document was widely praised overall, but certain passages provoked controversy – for instance, a section on “New pelagians” condemned a “self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love”, which manifested itself in a “punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige”.

What commentators are saying

Carl Olson, writing at Catholic World Report, said the exhortation was at its best when summarising the Church’s “meat and potatoes” teaching on holiness, sainthood and spiritual life. “There are hard truths put forward with clarity and brevity,” he said.

But several remarks were puzzling, Olson argued. He pointed to the document’s criticism of modern-day pelagians, who were accused of “obsession with the law”. “The overall impression is that rules, boundaries, limits, dogma … are almost always impediments.” Yet there is a growing sense among Catholics in the West, he said, that some “‘rules and regulations’ … really should hold fast in order for goodness, order, and authentic love to survive”.

Fr Dwight Longenecker had similar concerns. The Church may have “some fussbudget priests” and “stern sourpusses” but, he asked, “so what?” “The Catholic Church is a big family. Surely we have room for the eccentric aunty in her chapel veil [or] the curmudgeonly granddad.”

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