Pope Francis is continuing on his mission to bring the traditional Catholic church’s into the modern era by using his latest edict to encouraging priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.
In a 256-page document - known as an apostolic exhortation and titled "Amoris Laetitia," Latin for "The Joy of Love" - the 79-year-old Pontiff discusses marriage and family values. "A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in 'irregular' situations, as if they were stones to throw at people's lives," he wrote.
He talked of how divorced couples should be looked at with more understanding – not judgment.
The Pope wrote priests should take account of “mitigating factors and situations” and make allowances in “particular cases,” since “the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”
Adding even those in an “objective state of sin” can be entitled to receive the “help of the sacraments”.
Traditionally, if a person was married validly and then divorced but never obtained an annulment, then that person is still married in the eyes of the Church. He or she cannot validly marry again in the Catholic Church – something which the Pope worries may drive members away.
After considering the plight of Catholics in his native Argentina who gave up on the process of annulment – to have their unions erased in the eyes of God, Pope Francis last year changed church law to make it simpler and quicker to obtain an annulment everywhere.
In the past he has suggested that annulment should be obtained by the church without fee.
His latest document is a move that is likely to anger church conservatives but the leader wrote:
“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth.”
Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, told The Wall Street Journal that the Pontiff’s latest statements on marriage open up room for ambiguity on all of the church’s doctrines regarding morality.
“This document has opened up a large and ill-defined vista over a broad range of moral issues,” said Mr Shaw. “If you can discern this way when it comes to marriage questions, what about almost any other moral question?”
During his landmark statements the Pope stopped well short of endorsing same-sex marriage – outlining the conservative belief that it is not equivalent to heterosexual unions.
“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,” the pope wrote.
The Pope was unambiguous about abortion, saying “no alleged right to one’s own body can justify” terminating a pregnancy. He also denounced the death penalty and euthanasia.