Can there be any doubt now that Pope Francis wants the Church to be responsive to social reality, to life as it is lived by the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics?

The problem is that the social reality, the life as it is lived in this 236 page document titled Amoris Laetitia, or “the Joy of Love” belongs to the faded pre-Age of Aquarius world of 1963, not to 2016.

Nevertheless, supporters and critics will parse this document this week for clues about where Francis will lead the church, reminding me of the way nationalists and unionists used to parse new political declarations in hardest years of the peace process in Ireland.

It is abundantly clear now that Francis wants a political settlement, one that addresses the new realities of the faithful, and puts the conflicts of the past to rest.

But it is equally clear that hardliners behind the scenes want to retain the right to determine who’s in and who’s out, and ensure the power behind the papal throne still speaks with the loudest voice.

Francis may wish to throw open the church’s doors to the tens of millions of Catholics who feel excluded by church doctrine, but that gesture would convulse his senior clerics.

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Conservative voices have loudly demanded there be no change in the church’s teaching on social issues and in this new document they have gotten what they wanted, because the pope is confined to simply calling for a change in the church’s tone and emphasis, not a change in the rules. Be much nicer to the fallen is the message, essentially.

I’m over being disappointed by this. I didn’t expect the pope to change church doctrine to stop denigrating the dignity, humanity and worth of gay people, or divorcees, or single mothers. Decades ago I and almost every other Irish gay person I know reconciled ourselves to the fact that Catholicism will keep a cold house (and church) for the like of us.

So to call for a change in tone without a change of doctrine is next to meaningless. In an ancient and deeply reactionary organization like the church, where every change in tone is obsessively policed, the glacial slowness of its response to modern life will probably do nothing to halt its increasing isolation.

Francis understands, more than any pope in modern times, that the church starts by casting out sinners and ends by being cast out itself, because that is always the fate of the holier than thou.

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. This document, with its focus on heterosexual unions and its explicit rejection of gay ones, divides without conquering. Gay unions are still shown the door whilst heterosexual ones (as long as they are still in their first marriage) are shown salvation. What fomer Irish president Mary McAleese wisely called "the architecture of homophobia" still stands.

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We should not wonder at this. In the Vatican there are countless old theologians who spend their days pondering urgent questions like how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

Pope Emeritus Benedict was one such theoretician. Just to look at him was to realize he had probably not spent an hour ministering to ordinary Catholics in the real world since the time of Pope Pius XII. Just to look at him was to know why half the U.S. adults raised Catholic have left the church.

If this were a business model rather than a religion you would say it was self-defeating. We can conclude that Amoris Laetitia, or “the Joy of Love,” is a flawed document because it diagnoses the problem without administering a cure.

Do not, Francis writes, wield “moral laws” like a weapon. But you cannot leave a cache of divisive spiritual weapons lying around and expect that clerics will resist the temptation to use them.

If Francis genuinely thinks asking the clergy to play nicer whilst refusing to decommission the theology they use to exclude millions will work, he should reflect on the hard lessons of the Irish peace process.

In Ireland we learned that no one wants to decommission until everyone decommissions. That meant that sometimes an act of transformative courage was required of those in power, to move the process forward.

Amoris Laetitia, or “the Joy of Love,” is a gesture, but not an act of courage. The times – and the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics – deserved more. For millions of second tier Catholics there’s still no room at the inn, the altar or the chapel.

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Pope Francis wants the Church to be responsive to social reality, to life as it is lived by the world’s estimated 1.2 billion CatholicsMalacanangPhotoBureau, public domain