In the 256-page document entitled The Joy of Love, the Pope made no change in church doctrine. But in selectively citing his predecessors and emphasising his own teachings, he made it clear that he wants nothing short of a revolution in the way priests accompany Catholics.
He said the Church must no longer sit in judgment and “throw stones” against those who fail to live up to the gospels’ ideals of marriage and family life. He wrote: “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.”
On thorny issues such as contraception, the Pope stressed that a couple’s individual conscience, not dogmatic rules imposed across the board, must guide both their decisions and the Church’s pastoral practice.
“We have been called to form consciences, not replace to them,” he said.
He insisted the Church’s aim is to reintegrate and welcome all its members, calling for a new language to help Catholic families cope with today’s problems.
And he said pastors must take into account mitigating factors such as fear, ignorance, habits and duress in counselling Catholics who simply aren’t perfect.
He wrote: “It can no longer simply be said that all those in any irregular situations are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace, adding that even those in an “objective situation of sin” can be in a state of grace, and can even be more pleasing to God by trying to improve.
The document’s release marks the culmination of a two-year consultation of ordinary Catholics and the Church hierarchy that Pope Francis initiated in the hopes of providing Catholic families with better pastoral care.
The most divisive issue was whether the Pope would loosen the Vatican’s strict position on whether Catholics who divorce and remarry can receive Communion.
The Pope repeated what the synod had endorsed of the need for pastors to help individual Catholics over the course of spiritual direction to ascertain what God is asking of them, linking this with having access to the sacraments.