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Amoris Laetitia and Catholic Families in Asia: An Initial Literature Review

Pope Francis will close the “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year in the Tenth World Meeting of Families, which will take place in Rome on June 26, 2022. Last year, on the fifth anniversary of his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (hereafter: AL), the Pope promulgated the “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year. He invited all to spend a year re-reading the document and reflecting on the theme on this anniversary. At the opening of that event, the Pope noted that the primary intention of Amoris Laetitia was to communicate that there is a need for a new outlook on family in a profoundly changed time and culture.[1] On the one hand, he reminded us that a Word should be proclaimed to the couples, spouses, and families; a Word that helps them grasp the authentic meaning of the union and love, the sign and image of Trinitarian love and the covenant between Christ and the Church. On the other hand, he also noticed that we should pay particular attention to spouses’ and parents’ real challenges and struggles because the Church is incarnated in history.

Responding to the Pope’s invitation to pay attention to the Asian families’ actual situation, I searched for theological reflections from the Asian context available on the web and written in English. Catholics in Asia live in culturally plural societies and among many religious traditions. Therefore, Asian bishops have recognized this reality as a challenge to becoming an Asian Church. One important way to become an Asian Church is through dialogue with cultures. This is why I wanted to learn from theological reflections on Catholic marriage and Asian cultures. Although not many, I have found some publications that mention socio-cultural context as a challenge to Catholic spouses and families.

Among the results, an article from Jojo M. Fung was perhaps the earliest reaction to AL from an Asian perspective (Fung 2016). The writer welcomes the emphatic assertion of AL that particular contexts and communities with their cultures have to be attended to (see AL 3). However, in this paper, we don’t see any specific Asian context or culture brought to dialogue with the document.

The following finding was an interesting article written by our moral theologian colleague, Geevarghese  Kaithavana (Parecattil and Kaithavana 2017). Kaithavana and his co-writer wrote about the relevance of Amoris Laetitia for the divorced and remarried Catholics in Kerala, India. I appreciate their suggestions for the Church in Kerala, which they put at the end of the article. They offer nine suggestions of the possible guidelines for the effective pastoral care of divorced and remarried couples. I used these suggestions to evaluate the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried in my diocese. In my opinion, those suggestions can be applied in various local settings. From those points, the last point is essential for the Asian church because it pays attention to the role of the Christian communities in the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried. Asian theologians are already familiar with “basic Christian communities” or “basic ecclesial communities.” (cf. (Lakshmanan 2014). I think that the writers could explore further how these communities in Kerala may be involved in that pastoral care for the couple in irregular situations. Furthermore, I agree with them that basic communities in Asian Church can be involved in the pastoral praxis of accompanying, discerning, and integrating.

Besides an article about the reception of AL in the Indian context, I also found a thesis in another cultural context, namely the Chinese context. Although not widely published, Tai Ho Yip’s thesis entitled “Implications of the Exclusion of the Civilly Divorced and Remarried Chinese Catholics from Communion in Light of Amoris Laetitia” presents a theological reflection discussing the Church’s teaching on marriage and its challenge in the Chinese context (Yip 2022). Written in 2022, this thesis portrays the attitude of the Chinese Church to the civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. He explains that there is difficulty convincing Chinese Catholics to understand the doctrine about marriage due to people’s mentality shaped by Confucianism. Considering this difficulty, Yip explores the accompaniment for the Catholics living in irregular situations proposed by AL in the Chinese cultural context. As the title of his thesis already indicates, he enters the complex and most debated topic of admission of the divorced and remarried persons to Holy Communion, as some Western moral theologians had already initiated  (Lawler and Salzman 2017; Healy 2021; Hunter 2021).

Some years before the promulgation of AL, the topic of Holy Communion for civilly divorced and remarried persons had been discussed by Western scholars and theologians (Grisez, Finnis, and May 1994; Coriden 2012; Healy 2014; Kowal 2015). Amidst the debate on attitude and pastoral practice toward irregular marriages in the countries strongly influenced by the Catholic Church, a paper from Levy Lanaria offers a different perspective on the issue (Lanaria 2005). He argues that the Church should take seriously the possibility of admitting couples living in the irregular union but trying their best to work on their “normal” marital life. Taking a different approach, he undertakes a cultural exegesis of the indigenous traditional practice of salu-salo as a proposed lens through which to view the Eucharist. In the Philippine culture, salu-salo is an indigenous practice of preparing food to be shared with and enjoyed by all during family celebrations. From this paper, we can learn that the Eucharist is lived and inculturated within a specific cultural context. This will, in turn, have an inevitable pastoral implication for the local church’s pastoral care of the couples living in an irregular union.

From this brief literature review, we can learn that there are varieties of pastoral practices in the Asian Church which are strongly connected with and rooted in a particular tradition or even local wisdom. Some practices still need evaluation from different perspectives, but some may be proven a “creative fidelity”; on the one hand, they are faithful to the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage, but on the other hand, they respond to the needs of the people effectively (without giving a “stumbling block” for the parishioners). Finally, I hope that many other Asian ethicists and moral theologians will continue to explore contextual approaches to pastoral care for those living in irregular situations, although the “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year will be closed in June 2022.



Coriden, James A. 2012. “Conscience and Communion — What’s a Remarried Catholic to Do?” The Furrow 63 (4): 205–10.

Fung, Jojo M. 2016. “Multiple Contextual Perspectives of Amoris Laetitia.” MST Review 18 (2).

Grisez, Germain, John Finnis, and William E May. 1994. “Indissolubility, Divorce and Holy Communion. An Open Letter to Archbishop Saier, Bishop Lehmann, and Bishop Kasper.” New Blackfriars 75 (883): 321–30.

Healy, Nicholas J. 2014. “The Merciful Gift of Indissolubility and the Question of Pastoral Care for Civilly Divorced and Remarried Catholics.” Communio: International Catholic Review 41: 306–30.

———. 2021. “Interpreting Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia in Light of the Incarnation.” Journal of Moral Theology 10 (2): 144–59.

Hunter, David G. 2021. “Historical Theology and the Problem of Divorce and Remarriage Today.” Journal of Moral Theology 10 (2): 34–59.

Kowal, Wojciech. 2015. “The Non-Admission of the Divorced and Remarried Persons to Holy Communion: Canon 915 Revisited.” Studia Canonica 49 (1–2): 411–41.

Lakshmanan, Ramesh. 2014. “A New Way of Being Church: FABC Teachings on Basic Ecclesial Communities*.” East Asian Pastoral Review 51 (2): 140–65.

Lanaria, Levy L. 2005. “The Eucharist through the Lens of Salu-Salo: Implications for the Issue of Communion Received by Couples Living in Irregular Unions.” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 33: 100–126.

Lawler, Michael G., and Todd A. Salzman. 2017. “Catholic Doctrine on Divorce and Remarriage: A Practical Theological Examination.” Theological Studies 78 (2): 326–47.

Parecattil, Paul, and Geevarghese Kaithavana. 2017. “Relevance of Amoris Laetitia for the Divorced and Remarried in the Catholic Families of Kerala.” Asian Horizons 11 (1): 144–54.

Yip, Tai Ho. 2022. “Implication of the Exclusion of the Civilly Divorced and Remarried Chinese Catholics from Communion in Light of Amoris Laetitia.” Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America.

[1] Message of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Participants in the Online Meeting “Our Daily Love” for the Opening of the “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year.