VATICAN CITY (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pope Francis has insisted that individual conscience should be the guiding principle for Catholics negotiating the complexities of sex, marriage and family life in a major document that rejects the emphasis on black and white rules for the faithful.
In the 256-page document “The Joy of Love,” released Friday, Francis makes no big change in church doctrine.
“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions,” the document said.
While the Pope still condemned divorce as “evil,” he also called for allowing those who are remarried without an annulment to still receive communion, CBS News reported.
For many divorced and remarried Catholics, communion is a ritual in which they receive a blessing rather than a consecrated host.
The pontiff also addressed gender identity, where he said to “accept our humanity, as it was created,” CBS News reported.
But in selectively citing his predecessors and emphasizing his own teachings, Francis makes clear that he wants nothing short of a revolution in the way priests accompany Catholics. He says the church must no longer sit in judgment and “throw stones” against those who fail to live up to the Gospel’s ideals of marriage and family life.
The Pope also acknowledged the differences in family life across cultures and other religions: “For ‘cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated if it is to be respected and applied.'”
He said of the church: “We have been called to form consciences, not replace to them.”
The document comes after two years of debate in which many bishops insisted allowing divorced Catholics to take communion would undermine a key church teaching that marriage can’t be dissolved.
The Pope invites divorced Catholics to engage in dialogue with their pastor about once again taking holy communion.
He writes: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed. Families need to grow and mature in the ability to love.”
Catholic theologian R.R. Reno was a bit critical. Reno said the pope is moving the church from a clear “no” on communion for the divorced to uncertainty.
“He doesn’t give answers to the question about what the outcome of that conversation should be,” Reno told CBS2’s Tony Aiello.
“Is he saying yes? Or is he saying maybe? Or is he saying no? It’s not altogether clear.”
The Rev. Eric Andrews, president of the Paulist Fathers, noted that while the papal document also urges love and respect for gays, lesbians and unmarried mothers, its rejection of same-sex unions and abortion is sure to gain many people’s attention.
“For some people, this document will have gone too far, and for others, it will have gone not far enough,” he said.
While in Washington during his first visit to the United States late last year, Pope Francis took time to meet with Yayo Grassi, a gay man, his partner and his family. A video posted online showed Grassi embracing the pope and introducing him to his partner, as well as an Argentine woman and some Asian friends.
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Pope Francis has warned in the past that the Catholic Church’s moral structure might “fall like a house of cards” if it doesn’t balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make it welcoming and merciful.
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