In a major document released by the Vatican this week, Pope Francis has called for priests to be more accepting of gays and lesbians, and to treat divorced couples with more kindness. There needs to be emphasis on the “individual conscience” rather than on doctrinal laws, he argues in a document that changes the conversation the church has its followers. The message marks what could be a healthy change for the Catholic Church has it tries to refresh its image amid years of scandal and criminality.
“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” Francis wrote. He argues that “unjust” discrimination against gays and lesbians cannot be allowed to continue, and that human life is more complicated than many doctrinal laws allow for. The document, titled Amoris Laetitia, or “The Joy of Love,” includes more than 250 pages of guidance for Catholic priests.
Reverend James Martin, a Jesuit priest, calls the document “groundbreaking.” “[Francis’] aim is to help families—in fact, everyone—experience God’s love and know that they are welcome members of the church,” Martin said.
Francis does not feel, and does not want the priests in the church to feel, that divorced couples should be made to feel unwelcome in the church. He has made a push to make it easier for couples to get their marriages annulled, which allows them to continue to participate fully in the church if they choose to get remarried.
The Pope also did not write that he feels any forms of contraception are “unlawful,” unlike many of his predecessors, who were vocal about their opposition to it. Francis specifies that the church must emphasize the joy of having children to young couples while simultaneously respecting each family’s need to decide what kind of family they would like to have. “Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope,” he wrote.
The document includes guidance on other issues that affect love and the family, including poverty, migration, children with special needs, drug addiction, and lack of affordable housing.
“The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family,” he writes, “but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems. “