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‘Rejoice and be glad’: Catholics respond to pope’s letter

Pope Francis leaves St. Peter's Square at the Vatican after a Mass on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, April 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

(RNS) — Pope Francis’ third apostolic exhortation of his papacy, “Gaudete et Exsultate” or “Rejoice and Be Glad,” comes after his first two riled conservative Catholics.

“Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” in particular upset critics of the pope’s pastoral approach with its suggestion that divorced Catholics who remarried in civil ceremonies still could receive Communion.

More than 60 Catholic theologians, priests and academics signed on to a “filial correction” to Francis, accusing him of spreading heresy in that document.


RELATED: Pope seeks ‘saints next door,’ not doctrinaire perfectionists


In his latest apostolic exhortation on the topic of living holy in today’s world, published Monday (April 9), Francis seemed to take aim at some of those critics. He wrote about two ancient heresies and about those led by “a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige” rather than love.

But those critics largely were silent in the hours after the letter was made public, and the immediate response was largely positive. Here is a sampling of the reactions, some of which have been edited for length:

The Rev. James Bretzke, theologian

Bretzke, a theologian at Boston College, posted several links to the letter on Twitter, wondering if a particular section was a “warning to EWTN and Church Militant, etc.?”

Church Militant was part of the online campaign to get the Rev. James Martin — whose latest book urges dialogue between Catholics and the LGBT community — disinvited from speaking engagements.

Bretzke noted that Francis wrote: “Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.”

The theologian expanded on that in an interview with The Washington Post, saying the pope’s words “will not make liturgy traditionalists very happy. … He’s saying to these people that they might be falling into contemporary versions of ancient heresies.”

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “is welcoming” the release of the letter, according to the USCCB.

His statement read in part:

“I want to personally express my deep gratitude to the Holy Father for his powerful, straightforward words in Gaudete et Exsultate. In this exhortation, Pope Francis is very clear – he is doing his duty as the Vicar of Christ, by strongly urging each and every Christian to freely, and without any qualifications, acknowledge and be open to what God wants them to be – that is ‘to be holy, as He is holy’ (1 Pet 1:15). The mission entrusted to each of us in the waters of baptism was simple – by God’s grace and power, we are called to become saints.”

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble

Cardinal Blase Cupich

“‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ is a powerful meditation on what it means to think about holiness not only as an abstract goal, or as a way of being reserved to the saints, but about what it means for each of us to live holiness in our everyday lives,” tweeted Cupich, the head of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Natalia Imperatori, theologian

Catholic theologian and Manhattan College professor Imperatori pointed out on Twitter that “focus on individual situations is a recurring theme for Francis,” echoed again in “Gaudete et Exsultate.”

“Discernment, a hallmark of adult faith, is more challenging than blanket pronouncements or mere repetition of norms,” she said.

Catholic Herald

“To those who dismiss Francis’s critics out of hand: imagine falling madly in love with the Church and her traditions, only to have the Holy Father call you a punctilious neo-Pelagian. What part of filial loyalty means we have to stand by and cop that abuse?” tweeted Michael Davis, U.S. editor of the Catholic Herald.

Deputy editor Dan Hitchens tweeted a bullet-pointed list of his reactions to the document, including parts he found “worryingly ambiguous.”

The Rev. James Martin, author

Martin, the popular Jesuit priest, author and editor of America magazine, tweeted that the latest apostolic exhortation “may be my favorite of all of Pope Francis’s writings.”

“It helps every person on the road to holiness, reminds us that being holy means being yourself, and takes aim at those who would reserve holiness for the few,” he said.

He also shared his Top 5 takeaways in a video for the Catholic magazine.

Meghan J. Clark, theologian

In her take for America magazine, Clark, associate professor of moral theology at St. John’s University in New York, describes “a deep simplicity at the heart of Pope Francis’ new exhortation.”

She wrote in part:

“‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ is at once theologically dense and pastorally accessible. Its modesty lies in the text’s attempt to embody the humility it proclaims; it does not propose a single path to holiness or one vision of saintly life. Rather, building upon his writing in ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ ‘Laudato Si’’ and ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ Pope Francis seeks to confirm, challenge and empower all the baptized to join the “great cloud of witnesses” that “includes our own mothers, grandmothers and loved ones.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl

“As with any magisterial document, it will take some time to digest and unfold the gift that Pope Francis has given us,” blogged Wuerl, head of the Archdiocese of Washington.

He called it “splendid spiritual and practical guidance by Pope Francis” and summarized it like this: “The Holy Father reminds us that the Lord calls each of us to holiness and that the entirety of our lives should be seen as being on a path of personal sanctification in communion with the whole of God’s people.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

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