Weight of Authority- Amoris Laetitia


Much hubbub and confusion regarding Amoris Laetitia, and its affect on the practices of the church. Many say (ERRONEOUSLY) that it “creates” wiggle room to allow clergy to let remarried Catholics, without the benefit of a decree of nullity, receive the Eucharist. In point of fact, it CREATES NOTHING. IT CAN’T, BY DEFINITION. So calm the heck down.

"There’s some befuddlement out there on the Interwebs, and more than a few Catholics are referring again and again to “the pope’s latest encyclical” when they talk about Amoris Laetitia.

Some have taken to comparing it unfavorably to “other encyclicals.”

Let’s clear up the confusion.

First, Amoris Laetitia is not an encyclical. It is an Apostolic Exhortation. Our friends over at EWTN have thoughtfully compiled a list of different kinds of papal documents, to clarify what they are and the force they carry:

The weight of authority behind a teaching of the Papal Magisterium depends on the dogmatic history of the teaching and the intention of the Supreme Pontiff. Papal addresses and documents invariably contain teachings in several categories of authority. Some of these teachings will be “of the faith” (de fide), requiring the assent of Catholics by reason of the virtue of faith’s obligation to God revealing. Among such de fide teachings will be those which have been solemnly defined (such as the divinity of Christ, or, the Immaculate Conception of Mary), and those which, while they have not been solemnly defined, belong to the infallible ordinary Magisterium, having been taught “semper et ubique” (always and everywhere). Examples of the latter include the evil of certain sins, such as abortion or adultery, or the restriction of the priesthood to men.

Papal addresses and documents may also contain teachings which come from the common teaching of the Church, but which cannot yet be said to be de fide, and even new insights and explanations which manifest the mind of the Magisterium. Such authentic teaching has a presumption of correctness and deserves the reverence and submission of Catholics. By doing so peaceful communion in matters of the faith is maintained throughout the Church, properly gathered around the principle of unity in faith given by Christ to the Church, Peter and his successors.

To the issue at hand:


A circular or general letter expressing the mind of the Pope, generally on matters of faith and morals. It may be a letter to the entire Church or an epistle to a particular Church or people (e.g. Mit brennenden sorge, Pius XI’s encyclical to the German people condemning racism).

Apostolic Letter

Letters** of less solemn authority **than an encyclical, they may be written on a doctrinal matter (e.g. Pope John Paul II’s Letter On the Beginning of the Third Millennium). They may also announce a papal act such as declaring a person Venerable (heroic virtue) or declaring a church a Basilica.

Apostolic Exhortation

A category of document** similar to an Apostolic Letter**, which the pope uses to communicate to the Church the conclusions he has reached after consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops.

Wikipedia puts it this way:

An apostolic exhortation is a type of communication from the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It encourages a community of people to undertake a particular activity but does not define Church doctrine. It is considered **lower in formal authority **than a papal encyclical, but higher than other ecclesiastical letters, Apostolic Letters and other papal writings.

Apostolic exhortations are commonly issued in response to an assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in which case they are known as post-synodal apostolic exhortations."


Thanks. This is helpful and a good rule of thumb. But there can be outliers–definitive doctrinal judgments have been found in documents other than a Constitution, Bull, or Encyclical, such as an Apostolic Letter, for example (I don’t think A.L. is is an example of such an outlier though).


Thank you, Deacon.

Could you please address the way to understand paragraph 305 along with its footnote 351?

Thank you kindly.


Thank you for posting this - it is very helpful to read. However, one thing I want to point out is that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who was one of the presenters of the document at the press conference, specifically referred to Amoris Laetitia as “an organic development of doctrine” when asked a question about whether it conflicted with St. John Paul II’s “Familiaris Consortio” (specifically paragraph 84 of that document).

Are you able to reconcile this response with what you posted above?

EDIT: Here is a link to an article with the quote: americamagazine.org/content/dispatches/pope-francis-exhortation-family-organic-development-doctrine


Paragraph 305 is simply a call to clergy to approach those in irregular situations with a more pastoral and less judgmental attitude. A very good “exhortation”

Footnote 351 is, I believe, is simply an example of this pontiff’s “casual style”. First, keep in mind that IT IS A FOOTNOTE. Second, it has two parts: 1. a statement that those in irregular situations can and should avail themselves of the sacraments “to which they are allowed” i.e. confession, sacrament of the sick: 2. a general statement regarding the often repeated admonishment, which this pontiff has himself often repeated, to clergy to not use the Eucharist as a weapon, (which may or may not be related to the earlier part of the footnote, or the preceding text, at all.)

In short, paragraph 305 has NOTHING problematic in it and footnote 351 is an afterthought, IN A FOOTNOTE, which even taken in its most problematic posture (which I do not) changes nothing.

  1. I think it a mistake to take A FOOTNOTE in a papal EXHORTATION (not even the level of an encyclical) and attempt to elevate it to the level of “doctrinal development”. In other words, IMO, Schonborn is engaged in wishful thinking i.e. he is wrong.

  2. It is not insignificant that this comment is posted in “America”. I will say no more about that, other than if I had a birdcage . . . . :wink:

3.This footnote in AL must not be taken out of the context of the entire document. It is important to keep in mind that AL cites the Final Report of the 2015 Synod on the key point: that all pastoral accompaniment of the divorced and civilly remarried, including discernment of ways in which they can be better integrated into the life of the Catholic community, is to take place “according to the teaching of the Church” — which means, in this context, the Church’s settled teaching on indissolubility and on worthiness to receive holy communion.

Its a footnote in a non-infallible relatively low level authority document. Calm the heck down.


I thought for some reason that people in irregular situations like divorced and re-married were not allowed to go to confession? I might be mistaken but that’s what I thought.



Thanks for the response. Hopefully this will combat some of the confusion that has been caused with the release of this document (with thanks in no small part to the many news sources and other individuals that want to make this out to be more than it is).


Organic development of doctrine - that is- “in terms of the the doctrine that is in the APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION” “Familiaris Consortio”. He restates that very doctrine in longer presentation on AL - referring one to it.

Not some doctrinal change of the Teaching of the Church. There is no such Change in Teaching and he would/or/does note this.

There was another lengthy presentation by Cardinal Schönborn - and he refers to “Familiaris Consortio” and more at length discusses the matter.

Noting too with emphasis that people need to set aside that footnote and read the document - and not get trapped in that footnote (a footnote…). I think one must hear his actual full discussions of the matter and we need to take care not to take various news reports as the best sources (as you too would note).

The Pope in fact asked people to read the whole document…and so many are not.


Why do you keep using ALL CAPS and saying “calm the heck down”?

Also, as this is a papal document, are we not, as Catholic faithful, to receive it with a certain amount of submission and docility? And if so, shouldn’t we also try to understand, especially the things which are difficult to understand and are being used by bishops and bishop conferences to claim that the door is now open to communion for the divorced and remarried?

I think questioning and discussion is very important when some bishops and cardinals are now claiming the backing of the pope’s authority to do what they want, while other bishops, and you, Deacon, are claiming that the document is not authoritative in that way. It is a 60,000 word document, more words than Matthew, Mark and Luke combined. It is very long and it is going to take a long time for the Church and Her hierarchy and the “faithful in the pews” to digest. But I don’t think that the best way to go about alleviating anyone’s concerns, nor addressing the willful “misunderstandings” is to just say it is not infallible and to just calm down.

Thank you for responding to my post earlier, with your post #5. I do disagree with some of what you assert, but I do appreciate that you responded and shared your understanding (minus the ALL CAPS). Have a good day.


I see you are an ordained Deacon.

Deleted my original question.


Frankly, I find this parsing of levels of documentary authority and mining for loopholes quite off-putting and disrespectful to the Holy Father.


tseleehw #4
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who was one of the presenters of the document at the press conference, specifically referred to Amoris Laetitia as “an organic development of doctrine” when asked a question about whether it conflicted with St. John Paul II’s “Familiaris Consortio” (specifically paragraph 84 of that document).

The confused Cardinal Schönborn is wrong. When “development of doctrine” takes place, even if non-definitive (non-infallible), it requires intellectual assent (“loyal submission of the will and intellect”, Vatican II, *Lumen Gentium *25). There is no such development in Amoris Laetitia.

jmjZelie #10
I think questioning and discussion is very important when some bishops and cardinals are now claiming the backing of the pope’s authority to do what they want, while other bishops, and you, Deacon, are claiming that the document is not authoritative in that way

Cardinal Burke insists that faithful Catholics should receive the papal document respectfully, and says that they should not fall into “the erroneous tendency to interpret every word of the Pope as binding in conscience, which, of course, is absurd.” **Cardinal Burke notes that near the outset of his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis explicitly states that the document should not be regarded as an act of the magisterium.


Can you give an example?

Note: In quoting your post I deleted the question mark at the end of it. I figured you were making a statement within a broader question and I was highlighting that statement. If I made a mistake here, and you weren’t stating that this is happening, sorry. It looks to me like you are saying that some bishops have said the door is now open to communion for the divorced and remarried, other than under the usual conditions (e.g. living as brother and sister and not causing scandal, etc.). If that is what you are claiming, can you give an example?


He is not confused.

See my post above…



Oh no problem!

If I recall correctly, I have read statements by the bishops’ conference of the Phillipines and by Viennese Cardinal Schonborn (editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church who is pleased to see the exhortation because that is what bishops of his conference have been doing for years now) and I think also the German bishops. These bishops are saying that separating or living as brother or sister is not required any longer. I have been reading various statements by bishops and cardinals and conferences as they respond to the release of the exhortation, and there is a wide disparity amongst the hierarchy. It is confusing.

But one thing I want to mention is that I am not claiming any of this. I am questioning as a result of their claims, trying to understand their reasoning and whose interpretation I can trust.

Edited to add: I just realized I was unclear. Some of the bishops have said that living as brother and sister or separating is not always necessary in every case, not just generally speaking. I will see if I can find some links again…



Here is a link to the Catholic bishops conference of the Phillipines and their response to the exhortation. And here is an excerpt:

"When the Pope therefore asks for more hospitality, welcome, friendship, even communion and solidarity with divorced and separated couples, with persons in irregular unions, he is by no means condoning whatever may be wrong or worse, sinful. He is asking us to be like the Merciful Redeemer who tells all sinners: “Neither do I condemn you.”

After collective discernment, your bishops will come up with more concrete guidelines on the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation. But mercy cannot wait. Mercy should not wait. Even now, bishops and priests must open welcoming arms to those who have kept themselves out of the Church because of a sense of guilt and of shame. The laity must do no less. When our brothers and sisters who, because of broken relations, broken families and broken lives, stand timidly at the doors of our churches – and of our lives – unsure whether they are welcome or not, let us go out to meet them, as the Pope urges us to, and assure them that at the table of sinners at which the All-Holy Lord offers himself as food for the wretched, there is always room. O res mirabilis manducat Dominum pauper, servus et humilis…O wonderful reality that the poor, the slave and the lowly should partake of the Lord. This is a disposition of mercy, an openness of heart and of spirit that needs no law, awaits no guideline, nor bides on prompting. It can and should happen immediately."

My own thoughts: it is a beautiful response, however, it is hard to believe they mean anything other than the plain meaning of their words, that welcoming them to reception of Holy Communion should happen immediately. However, I provide the link so that this excerpt can be read in its full context.


No that is not about Holy Communion. The “communion” there is in a different sense of the word - that of very important nature of the Church being a communion (communio).


Again no…

Rather I read it as meaning that one is to welcome all in mercy …as brothers and sisters…love them etc etc not admit the person who cannot receive Holy Communion to the Eucharist.

Not about some immediate reception of Holy Communion (no not about that)- but that Mercy - Love - welcoming etc should be happening immediately.

Those who cannot approach Holy Communion - are not to approach Holy Communion…but that are to be loved and welcomed as part of the communio of the Church…mercy and love of our brothers is not to wait …



One must go read and listen to the Cardinal…

It would not be a correct reading of the document or the Cardinal.

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