Pope Francis has said that the family is in crisis, and that is a much bigger issue than communion for the divorced and remarried. He suggested the news media had focused too much on the latter issue during the synod and in coverage of his recent document on the family.
The Pope spoke with journalists on his plane flight back from visiting refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos April 16.
A reporter from the French newspaper Le Figaro asked why his post-synod document “Amoris Laetitia” treats access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried in a footnote.
In response, Pope Francis noted a recent Pope’s reflections on the Second Vatican Council. There was the council as it took place in St. Peter’s Basilica, and there was the “council of the media” that covered the event, Pope Benedict XVI had said in February 2013.
“When I convoked the first synod, the great concern of the media was communion for the divorced and remarried, and, since I am not a saint, this bothered me, and then made me sad,” Pope Francis said, suggesting that he is sad that he can be annoyed.
“But do you not realize that that is not important?” he asked. “Don’t you realize that instead the family is in crisis, don’t we realize that the falling birth rate in Europe is enough to make one cry? And the family is the basis of society.”
“Do you not realize that the youth don’t want to marry?” he asked. “Don’t you realize that the lack of work or the little work (available) means that a mother has to get two jobs and the children grow up alone? These are the big problems.”
He said he thought this aspect of the family crisis is certainly in a footnote in “Amoris Laetitia” because he spoke about it in “Evangelii Gaudium,” his 2013 apostolic exhortation.
“Amoris Laetitia” is the Pope’s post-synodal exhortation published April 8. It reflected upon the bishops’ synods on the family in October 2014 and 2015.
In a previous question during the Pope’s April 16 in-flight press conference, Francis X. Rocca of the Wall Street Journal, had asked Pope Francis about access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried and “Amoris Laetitia.”
“Some sustain that nothing has changed with respect to the discipline that regulates access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried, that the Law, the pastoral praxis and obviously the doctrine remain the same,” Rocca said. “Others sustain that much has changed and that there are new openings and possibilities.”
Rocca asked: “are there new, concrete possibilities that didn’t exist before the publication of the exhortation or not?”
Pope Francis answered: “I can say yes, many. But it would be an answer that is too small.”
The Pope recommended Cardinal Christoph Schonborn’s presentation of the exhortation.
“You’ll find the answer there,” the Pope said.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, led the April 8 press conference releasing the document.
The cardinal had said there had been “too much concentration” on the questions regarding the pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried. “It’s a trap to focus everything on this point because you forget the sum total of the situation,” he said.
Cardinal Schonborn said the experience of the poor is a key to reading “Amoris Laetitia.”
“In the families of the poor, little steps on the path of virtue are experienced that can be much greater than those who live in ‘comfortable success’,” he said.