In long-awaited new guidelines on family life, Pope Francis called on priests around the world to be more compassionate and less judgmental — except when it comes to gay marriage, abortion, and birth control.
In comments which have been lauded for being more liberal, despite the basic messages remaining staunchly traditional, the pope encouraged priests to use their own discretion when deciding whether or not to give remarried divorcees communion and to treat "every person" with dignity and respect, "regardless of sexual orientation."
"'Every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence," he wrote in the 256-page document titled Amoris Laetitia, or "The Joy of Love," which has been two years in the making. However his definition of unjust discrimination seemingly does not apply to the denial of equal marriage rights, as he clarified that "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 was kind enough to add that priests should help gay people out with "respectful pastoral guidance," he said, "so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God's will in their lives."
There were repeated calls for clergy members to practice discernment rather than judgment, especially when dealing with the complexities of modern family life.
"I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion," the pope said. "But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness."
Divorce was definitely still "evil," he said, a sin which destabilized society as a whole, but he called for love to be shown for those which lived their lives in "an imperfect manner," for example unmarried couples living together, civilly married couples, and remarried people.
Remarried parishioners should be able to feel part of the church community, the pontiff said. "[They] should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment," meaning maybe they should be allowed to take communion.
However along with gay marriage, there were other issues about which discernment was definitely not an option. "'The Church strongly rejects the forced State intervention in favor of contraception, sterilization and even abortion,'" said the guidelines. "Such measures are unacceptable even in places with high birth rates, yet also in countries with disturbingly low birth rates we see politicians encouraging them."
There was also no budging on the use of birth control either, with the pope going so far as to say that messages about safe sex encouraged narcissism. While sex education was important, he said, it was often being given in the wrong way. "Sex education deals primarily with 'protection' through the practice of 'safe sex,'" he wrote. "Such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance."
In a passage with a slightly kinder tone, he gave young (heterosexual) married couples some advice on how to make their relationship work by developing routines that gave "a healthy sense of closeness and stability through shared daily rituals."
"These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together, and sharing household chores," he wrote. "Yet it also helps to break the routine with a party, and to enjoy family celebrations of anniversaries and special events. We need these moments of cherishing God's gifts and renewing our zest for life."
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