BOSTON (CBS) – Pope Francis says the Catholic Church must no longer judge those who fail to live up to strict church teachings on marriage and family life.
The message came Friday with the release of an eagerly awaited 256-page document called “The Joy of Love.”
It does not change church doctrine on divorce, gay marriage or contraception. Instead, the Pope tells Catholics to be guided more by individual conscience than by rigid church regulations. He also wants priests to be pastors, not rules enforcers.
“Francis is emphasizing all that’s positive and promising in family life without denying all the difficulties,” Greg Burke of the Holy See press office told CBS Radio News.
“It is an itinerary on how do we apply church doctrine to the very messy, real situations in which we live,” said Robert Mickens of the Catholic magazine Global Pulse.
Among other things, the document appears to open a door for some Catholics who’ve divorced and re-married to receive Communion.
John Allen, the editor of Crux, an independent web site covering the Vatican and the Catholic Church, says the pope wants a change in the level of “pastoral practice.”
“Pope Francis has said that the basic law, that if you’re divorced and civilly re-married, you are not supposed to receive Communion. That remains intact,” Allen told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.
“But he has given bishops and pastors space to make judgements in individual cases where perhaps the person doesn’t bear any guilt for the breakup of the marriage, that in those circumstances that person could make a decision in conscience that they could come forward and receive Communion. So this is a change in practice, not a change in teaching.”
Allen said it’s not a novelty that the pope is saying this can be done, rather it’s a novelty to see the pope encouraging this in such a high-profile way.
“While the pope has not changed church teaching or church law on marriage, he clearly has emboldened those who are inclined to be more flexible and more compassionate in interpreting and applying that law.”
“This is a document that demands a careful reading and reflection from Catholics everywhere, and it is sure to bear great fruit,” Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said in a statement Friday.
“Rather than try to draw immediate conclusions from the text, we are urged to reflect upon it and to ponder, patiently and carefully, what the teachings will mean for the Church and for her ministry to families.”