radical departure from recent pastoral
practice, Pope Francis has asked the
world's Catholic clergy to let their
lives become "wonderfully complicated"
by embracing God's grace at work in the
difficult and sometimes unconventional
situations families and marriages face
-- even at risk of obscuring doctrinal
The pontiff has also called on bishops
and priests globally to set aside fears
of risking moral confusion, saying they
must avoid a tendency to a "cold
bureaucratic morality" and shift away
from evaluating peoples' moral status
based on rigid canonical regulations.
In a substantial and already hotly
debated document addressing church
teaching on family life, Francis says
that Catholic bishops and priests can no
longer make blanket moral determinations
about so-called "irregular" situations
such as divorce and remarriage.
Writing in his new apostolic
exhortation, titled Amoris Laetitia
('The Joy of Love'), the pope strongly
advocates for the worth of the
traditional, life-long Christian
marriage but speaks respectfully of
nearly all models of family life.
He also persistently asks the church's
pastors to shift away from models of
teaching focused on repetition of
doctrine in favor of compassion and
understanding for peoples' struggles,
and how God may be calling to them in
the depths of their own consciences.
"It ... can no longer simply be said
that all those in any 'irregular'
situation are living in a state of
mortal sin and are deprived of
sanctifying grace," states the pontiff
at one point in the document, released
by the Vatican Friday.
"It is reductive simply to consider
whether or not an individualís actions
correspond to a general law
because that is not enough to
discern and ensure full fidelity
to God in the concrete life of a
human being," the pope writes
"Discernment must help to find
possible ways of responding to
God and growing in the midst of
limits," states Francis. "By
thinking that everything is
black and white, we sometimes
close off the way of grace and
of growth, and discourage paths
of sanctification which give
glory to God."
Earlier in the document, the
pope acknowledges that the way
the church has expressed its
family life teachings in the
past has not left enough room
for individuals to make
appropriate decisions about
their own lives.
"We have long thought that
simply by stressing doctrinal,
bioethical and moral issues,
without encouraging openness to
grace, we were providing
sufficient support to families,
strengthening the marriage bond
and giving meaning to marital
life," writes Francis.
"We find it difficult to present
marriage more as a dynamic path
to personal development and
fulfillment than as a lifelong
burden," he continues.
"We also find it hard to make
room for the consciences of the
faithful, who very often respond
as best they can to the Gospel
amid their limitations, and are
capable of carrying out their
own discernment in complex
situations," he states. "We have
been called to form consciences,
not to replace them."
Such language, openly
reevaluating how the church
approaches and considers
families around the world,
pervades the 263-page document,
which is expansive in scope.