Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” Falls Short by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt seems that Pope Francis has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love; and while he is taking steps in a positive direction, he still needs to spend time processing Farley’s words. With his new statement, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards “the other” but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican.  He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just and maintains the idea of complementarity rejecting women’s roles and capabilities outside of the home.

The document was developed based on information gathered from the “Synod of the Family” and addresses married life, family life, singleness, the education of children and procreation. What is significant about Amoris Laetitia is the acknowledgement that “the church has proposed a far too abstract and artificial theological idea of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.”

In Section 305, the document discusses “irregular family situations” that conflict with Catholic teaching such as divorce, civil marriage or remarriage.  These “irregular family situations” exclude Catholics from receiving communion and is an incredible source of pain – a branding with a scarlet letter.

Parish priests are offered a solution in to this section in Footnote #351. It states, “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” With this, the priest may grant communion at his discretion in an effort to help those sinners “grow in the faith and life of the church.”

As a child of divorce – a very painful event because of the Church’s stance – I appreciate that Pope Francis is taking a more pastoral approach in recognizing the many ways family is possible.  However, it is critical that the Vatican move away from language such as “tolerance” for the “weak” and instead focus on a message that encompasses love and compassion without judgement.

While many are praising Amoris Laetitia, and it may be a baby step in the right direction, it has continued the idea that those who make choices to be in healthy relationships or leave those that are not are sinners, not fully human.  Likewise, it continues a highly negative tone for the LGBTQ community and does not acknowledge women’s value outside of marriage.

Pope Francis is working hard to walk the line between conservative and liberal Catholics.  Perhaps instead of trying to please everyone, he should find courage to continue to consider his own blindspots, spend more time with Farley’s words, and recognize that the true message of the Gospels is not about tolerance, but about liberation for every person. “Jesus was all about opening the door to possibility — for everyone — in the name of good news — for everyone.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website ginamessinadysert.com.

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13 replies

  1. I read the document too and may have something to say about it in due time. As you say the document does not change or advocate changing church doctrine one iota. It only allows for compassion toward those who have not lived up to it.

    One thing that needs to be underscored is that “on the ground” this means the RC institution can continue to oppose providing contraception to women around the world and in US health care plans, can continue to favor restricting women’s right to choose in every way possible in the US and in other countries, and can continue to oppose gay marriage and gay rights in the US and around the world.

    Moreover, in leaving the decision to practice compassion or not to individual priests, this means that many Catholics will find themselves in parishes with priests who do not choose to be flexible.

    Yet, people still love this pope.


  2. To think that you can please (or reconcile or mediate or make peace) with people on all sides is a trap, perhaps even a form of temptation or hidden hubris. The longing to make everyone happy is a trait I share, though I am not invested in the Catholic church. It is not bad impulse, but can become a snare and a delusion, as I have discovered through experience. Jesus laid great emphasis on seeking truth (as distinct from dogma or conventional morality). Not always easy, not popular. Go for it, Francis.


  3. As a queer person, the only difference between this pope and the others is that Francis wants to give me a hug before he tells me I’m “gravely disordered” and bound for hell. I’ll pass, thanks.


  4. I’m wondering how much power a pope really has. Sure, he can write documents that sound progressive, but he’s the high man in a church that is still extremely medieval. There’s a fence around him. It’s called the Curia. It’s the misogynistic bishops. If he gets too modern, won’t they beat him up? It seems to me that all of the Christian churches (at least the ones I know about) are actually Pauline, and we know what a swell fellow Paul was. NOT.


  5. In one of her poems, Emily Dickinson says:

    “No ladder needs the bird but skies
    To situate its wings,
    Nor any leader’s grim baton
    Arraigns it as it sings.
    The implements of bliss are few —
    As Jesus says of Him,
    ‘Come unto me’ the moiety
    That wafts the cherubim.”

    And in a letter ED says again:
    “‘Come unto me’ begins in every place.”


  6. Surely baby steps, surely insufficient, I haven’t yet read the entire document, but do I need to? Surely, we know an all-male culture will not change because it wants to, but only will if it has to and even then. Women continue to work hard inside and outside the institution to cause the baby steps through our words as push-back because our words are just that –OUR WORDS– we know what they mean, what they stand for and we own them. Our words are heating up and gradually melting the iceberg. This exhortation will and can find its way into doctrine. Francis is healing the deep wounds of the divorced now. We all know that it is not enough, but there are good parishes out there, healthier parishes with healthier priests and if they are not, then it is our responsibility to put feminist literature in front of them, or ask them to include religious, women, LGBTQI, children and male allies in their prayers and learn about these groups and individuals on a one-on-one level as the means to transform incorrect thinking –by action– on the inside and the outside — with baby steps of our own. Let conscience be our guide and one day the teetering baby steps will begin to walk on their own.


    • Thank you, Janice, for sharing this perspective. As one who has put a lot of energy into fighting injustices in my denomination from the inside, I can identify with your words. This work is crucial as well.


  7. I do believe that the Pope in some form falls short to the LGBT community as well as those that have been divorced or separated for reasons that the church sees as invalid. Although Pope Francis is the highest person in the Catholic Church, I do not believe that it stands for him being able to change the foundation of the Catholic Church. The “rules” that he Catholic Church follows are based on the Bible. Pope Francis is not able to change these beliefs that have been placed, he can only, as he has done, open our minds and hearts. Remind us that we need to be more accepting of everyone. This is the foundation of our religion and we should remember and welcome everyone into the church. The church should not look down upon people who do not live “traditional” lives. Like the article states, in some ways, it is very unrealistic for women to live our lives as it says we should. It is a much more modern age where women as well as the LGBT community and those who have divorced shall not looked down upon for the decisions or choices they have made. The Catholic Church must remember our foundation should be nonjudgmental and we should promote peace and love.



  1. Sr. Jeannine Gramick “Extremely Disappointed” by Pope Francis’ Exhortation | Bondings 2.0
  2. Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” Falls Short by Gina Messina — | agendaaulas
  3. Sr. Jeannine Gramick “Extremely Disappointed” by Pope Francis’ Exhortation | Newsessentials Blog

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