In a much-anticipated paper, Pope Francis is urging the church to be more compassionate to “imperfect” Catholics, including divorcees and those who have remarried.
According to NBC News, this is the pope’s first major teaching on family issues and has created a stir for over two years.
Pope Francis announced in 2014 that he would consult with Catholic bishops from around the world to examine the modern family crisis worldwide. The document titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love,” came as a result of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in 2014 and Synod of the Bishops in 2015.
The document, which is considered a formal teaching guide for the church on the issues of marriage and the family, outlines the bishops’ insights from these events and the pope’s own thoughts.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 8, 2016
According to the Associated Press, the 325-page formal letter, which is known as an apostolic exhortation, is addressed to bishops, priests, married couples, and lay people about “love in the family.”
The tone of the letter is more about how priests should rely on their own consciences rather than on Vatican rules to negotiate the complexities of sex, marriage, and family life and urges mercy.
He said the church must no longer sit in judgment and “throw stones” at those who fail to live up to the Gospel’s ideals of marriage and family life.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) April 8, 2016
Pope Francis noted that a myriad of issues, including unemployment, migration, poverty, gambling, alcoholism, polygamy, and other societal issues, place overwhelming pressure on members of the church today. He also noted that what may seem normal for a bishop on one continent is considered “strange and almost scandalous” for another, and he wants local bishops to seek local solutions that are appropriate, considering the culture in which they pastor.
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud on the street.'”
While Pope Francis explicitly said that divorced and remarried people are “not excommunicated” and should not feel “discriminated against,” he stops short of directly saying they are welcome to take the bread and wine at Eucharist. However, a footnote seemed to indicate that the Eucharist is for everyone, including “the weak.”
“I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'”
Presently, divorcees are only able to receive Communion after their previous marriage has been annulled by the church as well as by the state.
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) April 8, 2016
Pope Francis also called for an end to “unjust discrimination” against homosexuals, although he maintained the church’s stance on gay marriage.
“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
Stressing that sex education is more important than ever “in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished,” Pope Francis warned against the “onslaught of new ideas and suggestions, the flood of pornography and the overload of stimuli that can deform sexuality.”
— Mashable (@mashable) April 8, 2016
At the crux of Pope Francis’ message is the call for priests to help people remain in loving relationships despite modern challenges such as longer life spans and “rampant individualism.”
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”
[Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images]