Bishop Richard J. Malone was in Washington, DC, Friday morning to respond to the long anticipated exhortation by Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love.
"In the Joy of Love, our Holy Father has given to all of us a very, very beautiful and stirring reflection on love in the family. No one can read this without being touched in some way, and I would say touched deeply," said the bishop. "The way the Pope has of moving our hearts and challenging our pastoral ministry to become more 'missionary', more like Jesus, reaching and touching people, not in the abstract, but in the concrete reality of their lives."
Bishop Malone is the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He was chosen to participate in a web press conference along with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, USCCB President, and Helen Alvare, Professor of Family Law for the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.
Bishop Malone told reporters from around the nation that the Church in the U.S. is well poised to receive the Holy Father's Exhortation. "Our diocesan and parish ministries, our movements and countless apostolates continue to open young people and couples to the grace of God. We stand with families and we seek to support those who are touched by poverty, trafficking, immigration challenges, domestic violence and pornography," said the bishop. "We also have room to grow and improve and we welcome the Pope's encouragement of a renewed witness to the truth and beauty of marriage and of a more tender closeness with couples and families who are experiencing real difficulties, many of which the Pope highlights in the document."
In reading through the 250 page document, Bishop Malone said he was struck by themes that complement and enhance the rich teaching of the Second Vatican Council and recent popes. "Pope Francis is calling us to a deeper application of the Church's teaching and pastoral mission, both to further the vocation and mission of married couples and families, and to advance a pastoral care and discernment that will seek to heal wounds. He is inviting us to pause in reflection with him to let ourselves be renewed and challenged and to take up his call for a missionary conversion and ever closer accompaniment. This accompaniment upholds the full truth of God's plan while meeting families where they are, walking with them towards ever deeper conversion to Jesus. Amoris Laetitia beckons to be received and reflected upon in its entirety. I look forward to pause upon and not rush through his teaching. It is so rich. It will surely be a great encouragement to married couples and families and to all engaged in marriage and family life ministry and advocacy."
There had been speculation that the exhortation might take a different approach to the way the Church deals with divorced couples. The pope does not attempt to change any of the rules or teachings in this regard, but the pope's words touch on a constant theme of accompaniment, according to Bishop Malone.
"He calls us constantly to walk with people in whatever be the situation of their lives, and so when it comes to our ministry with married people and including people who are in situations of divorce and remarriage, the pope is calling us to embrace all of our people, whatever be their situation, to listen to their stories, to do everything we can to make sure they never feel excluded from the life of the Church."
In response to one reporter's question about putting the Pope's words to action, Bishop Malone said the Buffalo Diocese has been taking very seriously the sacred ministry of walking with engaged couples in preparation for marriage.
"I think we have to strengthen that. I intend, when I get back to Buffalo to look at what I really believe is already a very good marriage preparation program, but to see how it could be improved and enhanced by the Holy Father's call," the bishop said. "In the exhortation, there is also a call for us to continue walking with our married couples after marriage in all the different phases and challenges of life. I want to make sure we are setting ourselves up to do that more effectively.
"We cannot rush our interpretation of what we have here. This document I believe needs to be read slowly, over and over again in its wholeness," the bishop says about the 256-page exhortation. "It is a beautiful teaching addressed to everyone, to all of the faithful and to everyone of good will. I know that my task going back to my diocese is to meet with my staff to study this carefully, over time and then to find every way we can to introduce the message of the Holy Father in all of its invitation and all of its challenge to the whole community of Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo."