Pope Francis greets newly married couples during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sept. 30, 2015


Pope Francis greets newly married couples during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sept. 30, 2015

May 2, 2016

Reading Pope Francis' exhortation on the family is like having a discussion at the kitchen table with your grandfather, says Archbishop Richard Smith.

The apostolic exhortation - Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of the Family) - is like being able to "talk openly with a man who already understands your problems and your weaknesses," the archbishop said in an interview.

"The pope has a beautiful way of expressing in accessible language what is on the mind of the Church," he said.

Any family reading it will see the pope as a man who "understands the messiness of their lives, that no family is perfect, and that we all have mistakes and failures along with our joys and happiness."

Pastoral accompaniment was a key topic in the pope's exhortation, the archbishop said. "How do we walk with people today in our weakness and in our mistakes to live fully, beautifully and joyfully the vocation to married life?"

Smith was a Canadian delegate who attended the world Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome last October.

The Edmonton Archdiocese, he said, is just beginning its discernment of how to incorporate the new papal document into its pastoral life.

Amoris Laetitia reflects the synod discussions which took place during those three weeks, the archbishop said. But the exhortation "goes beyond the discussions."


In any post-synodal exhortation, the pope will recall much of what the bishops had to say, he said. "But when it comes time for the pope to speak, the Church wants to hear him and not just the repetition of what the bishops said."

Archbishop Richard Smith

Archbishop Richard Smith

Smith lauded Pope Francis' extended "beautiful meditative" reflection on St. Paul's hymn about love from First Corinthians. "It is probably the central element (of the letter), and everything else flows around that."

The pope, he said, is a son of the Church who is not out to change anything the Church teaches.

However, Smith said he needs to go over the entire letter in more detail, and he is not yet prepared to say anything on the topic of whether Communion should be open to divorced and remarried Catholics who have not had their first marriages annulled.

Since Amoris Laetitia was published on April 8, that topic has been a source of controversy with differing interpretations given to the brief sections of the document focused on it.


Smith noted there has been a shift in the language used by Pope Francis from that of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope John Paul was a philosopher whose language was ponderous and could be difficult to understand, he said. Pope Benedict was "one of the best theological minds the Church has ever had." But the documents produced by both men could be inaccessible to those who are not theologically trained.

Pope Francis, in contrast, while also theologically astute, brings to the fore "his strong pastoral heart which beats very strongly throughout the whole letter."

Smith said there is no conflict between truth and mercy. Showing mercy to another "never takes place in a way that denies truth, that denies doctrine.

"The doctrine of the Church oozes mercy," the archbishop said. "It flows from Christ himself who is mercy incarnate, the merciful face of the Father."