Update: The exhortation has been released and is available on the Vatican website. The Exhortation, signed on March 25, was released today, April 2, the Memorial of the Death of John Paul II.
Update #2: It is also posted on Zenit’s website, which is much more mobile-friendly.
Today, during a pilgrimage to Loreto, Pope Francis signed the text of the soon-to-be-released Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which is the fruit of the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. The Spanish opening words of the document are “Vive Cristo, esperanza nuestra,” (in English, “Christ, our hope, lives!“). The document will be released to the public in the coming days.
For today’s feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis visited the The Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto and delivered a discourse on the significance of the family and the challenges facing families today, in addition to signing the exhortation.
Crux explains the significance of the Holy House of Loreto or the “Flying House” of Loreto:
According to tradition, the house of the Holy Family was flown over by four Angelic beings from Nazareth to Tersatto, Croatia, then to Recanati, before arriving at the current site, where it’s been a pilgrimage site for Catholics since the 14th century.
(Scholars attest that the Angeli family had the house, already shrine in the Holy Land, deconstructed and the brick sent to Italy to be rebuilt.)
As Francis said during his remarks, it’s inside these four walls that Mary allegedly gave her “yes” to the angel when it was announced to her that she’d been chosen as the mother of Christ. It’s no coincidence that the pontiff decided to go to this Marian shrine on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.
Pope Francis remarked,
The Holy House is the home of the young, because here the Virgin Mary, the young woman full of grace, continues to speak to new generations, accompanying each one in the search for their own vocation. This is why I wanted to sign here the Apostolic Exhortation that is the fruit of the Synod dedicated to young people.
In his address he also restated his support for the traditional teachings of the Church on marriage and family:
In the delicate situation of the world today, the family based on marriage between a man and a woman assumes an essential importance and mission.
While it is customary for a pope to write an exhortation following a meeting of the Synod of Bishops (hence the classification “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation”), it is perhaps surprising that he did so this time. As Adam Rasmussen explained back in September 2018, the new constitution on the Synod of Bishops, entitled Episcopalis Communio, expressly allows the pope to elevate the meeting’s final document to the level of Authentic Magisterium, rendering the need for a separate papal exhortation unnecessary.
Whether or not a synod document is elevated in such a way remains the decision of the pope — the Synod of Bishops remains an advisory body and has no authority without the pope’s approval — but in this case, Francis’s decision to write his own document is notable for a number of reasons.
The first reason is that the body of bishops was unable to ratify a paragraph in the document endorsing “zero tolerance” for clerical sexual abuse. Francis may not have been happy with such an omission, and it will be interesting to see if such language appears in the exhortation.
In his analysis of the omission of “zero tolerance” language, John Allen writes:
Francis himself repeatedly has endorsed “zero tolerance,” saying for instance in 2017 that the Church “irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of ‘zero tolerance’ against sexual abuse of minors.’
Another factor to consider with regard to Francis’s decision to write an exhortation is that many of Francis’s critics seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that the final document was “not as bad” as many had feared. Opponents of Francis’s papacy had voiced complaints of many of the events leading up to the synod, including the pre-synodal meeting of young people, the document that meeting produced, and the Instrumentum Laboris (the preparatory document for the synod). Perhaps some of these voices were successful in obstructing the synod fathers from ratifying a truly bold and prophetic document, and Francis was underwhelmed with the result.
Attempts were made to undermine the synod, including by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who first attempted to call for the synod’s cancellation because of the urgent nature of the abuse scandal, and when that didn’t work, published an anonymous theological critique of the Instrumentum Laboris in the increasingly anti-Francis journal, First Things. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, expressed his support for Chaput’s suggestion on Twitter, and several others also lent support to the idea.
Nevertheless, the Synod proceeded as planned and and the exhortation has been signed and will be released in the coming days. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to believe that this document will face intense scrutiny and harsh criticism from the usual suspects. For those of us who are supporters of Pope Francis and his teaching, however, this exhortation promises to be a rich document, with deep insights and profound and illustrative teaching.
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.