Pope to church: Be more accepting of divorced Catholics, gays and lesbians

Updated 4:22 PM EDT, Fri April 8, 2016
Pope Francis waves from his car, a Fiat, upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in September. The Archdiocese of New York is now auctioning off the car for charity.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Pope Francis waves from his car, a Fiat, upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in September. The Archdiocese of New York is now auctioning off the car for charity.
Now playing
01:50
Pope Francis addresses divorce, modern families
Pope Francis gives his speech during his weekly general audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Andrew Medichini/AP
Pope Francis gives his speech during his weekly general audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Now playing
00:36
Pope addresses Ireland's child sex abuse scandal
Pope Francis
CNNI
Pope Francis
Now playing
01:30
Pope Francis speaks out on sex abuse scandal
Pope Francis delivers his speech during his audience for members of the International Pilgrimage of the Ministrants at St Peter's Square on July 31, 2018 in Vatican City. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis delivers his speech during his audience for members of the International Pilgrimage of the Ministrants at St Peter's Square on July 31, 2018 in Vatican City. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:51
Pope on sex abuse report: 'we abandoned the little ones'
Pope Francis prays during a weekly general audience in St Peter's square on May 23, 2018 in Vatican. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis prays during a weekly general audience in St Peter's square on May 23, 2018 in Vatican. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:20
Pope declares death penalty inadmissible
MALMO, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 31:  Pope Francis gives a speech during the 'Together in Hope' event at Malmo Arena on October 31, 2016 in Malmo, Sweden. The Pope is on 2 days visit attending Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration in Lund and Malmo.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
MALMO, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 31: Pope Francis gives a speech during the 'Together in Hope' event at Malmo Arena on October 31, 2016 in Malmo, Sweden. The Pope is on 2 days visit attending Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration in Lund and Malmo. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:38
Gay man: Pope told me 'God made you like that'
On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart".
During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven.
Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
Reuters
On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart". During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven. Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer. The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
Now playing
01:03
Boy asks pope if atheist father is in heaven
Mountain Butorac
Now playing
01:36
Watch boy who survived cancer get Pope's kiss
Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP
Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
Now playing
01:32
Pope performs impromptu wedding on plane
A general view shows the crowd during the Easter Sunday mass on April 16, 2017 at St Peter's square in Vatican. Christians around the world are marking the Holy Week, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A general view shows the crowd during the Easter Sunday mass on April 16, 2017 at St Peter's square in Vatican. Christians around the world are marking the Holy Week, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:03
The outlaw origins of the Catholic Church
Now playing
01:59
Pope's farmer reveals pontiff's favorite food
Mountain Butorac
Now playing
00:46
Little girl tries to steal Pope's hat
Host TV
Now playing
01:20
President Trump, Pope Francis exchange gifts
Pope Francis meets with Polish bishops at Wawel royal castle in Krakow, on July 27, 2016 during World Youth Days.
Pope Francis heads to Poland for an international Catholic youth festival with a mission to encourage openness to migrants. / AFP / WOJTEK RADWANSKI        (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis meets with Polish bishops at Wawel royal castle in Krakow, on July 27, 2016 during World Youth Days. Pope Francis heads to Poland for an international Catholic youth festival with a mission to encourage openness to migrants. / AFP / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:05
Pope Francis' most memorable moments
Charlene, Princess of Monaco (2-L) kisses the hand of Pope Francis, as her husband Prince Albert II of Monaco (L) looks on prior to a private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican on January 18, 2016.     / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Charlene, Princess of Monaco (2-L) kisses the hand of Pope Francis, as her husband Prince Albert II of Monaco (L) looks on prior to a private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican on January 18, 2016. / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:31
Papal etiquette when meeting the Pope
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29:  Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Franco Origlia/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:01
Things Donald Trump has said about the Pope

Story highlights

Francis calls for church to be more tolerant in practice while not changing official doctrine

He urges priests to be more accepting of gays, divorced Catholics, "irregular" situations

Pope: "The divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part" of church

(CNN) —  

Pope Francis put his shoulder to the doors of the Catholic Church and shoved them open a little wider Friday, calling for the church to be more tolerant in practice while not changing any official doctrines.

He urged priests around the world to be more accepting of gays and lesbians, divorced Catholics and other people living in what the church considers “irregular” situations.

“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 writes in a sweeping paper outlining his stance on family matters.

He urges more common sense and less unthinking following of rules.

“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth,” he writes.

He emphasizes that “unjust discrimination” against gays and lesbians is unacceptable, downplays the idea of “living in sin” and suggests that priests should use their own discretion on whether divorced Catholics in new marriages can take Communion.

Bernie Sanders to visit Vatican City before New York primary

Path of Jesus

The paper has much to please both liberals and conservatives, though it is unlikely to go far enough for either group within the church.

“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,” he writes.

The statements appear in a highly anticipated paper called On Love in the Family” in English and “Amoris Laetitia” in Latin. Running more than 260 pages, it comes after Francis summoned the world’s Catholic bishops twice to discuss the issues in conferences known as synods.

The first was in October 2014, and the second was a year later.

Francis has been working on the document since then.

The October 2015 synod in particular was reported to have been contentious, with Cardinal George Pell – who is close to Pope Francis – telling a Catholic newspaper that some of the debates were “spicy.”

But Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington wrote Friday that “Amoris Laetitia” “reflects the consensus of those meetings and many voices.”

A ‘groundbreaking new document’

For those paying attention to Francis since he became Pope three years ago, the opinions in the paper are unlikely to come as a surprise.

This is, after all, the Pope who said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuality.

The Pope said what?!?

But Friday’s paper is not simply a remark made in an interview.

It’s what’s called an “apostolic exhortation.”

That means it is an official statement from the Pope on how Catholics should live their lives. It’s the second exhortation Francis has issued since taking the throne of St. Peter, and the first based entirely on synods he summoned himself.

His aim “is to help families – in fact, everyone – experience God’s love and know that they are welcome members of the church,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer who called the paper a “groundbreaking new document.”

On divorced Catholics, whose religious lives Francis has made it a priority to ease, the Pope writes: “The divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church.”

“It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin.”

Shift on divorce

Francis has pushed to make it easier for Catholic couples to get an annulment of their marriages. That allows them to continue to participate fully in church life if they remarry, including taking the sacrament of Communion.

He does not say explicitly in Friday’s paper that divorced Catholics should be allowed to take Communion, Martin observed.

“The reception of Communion is not spelled out here, but that is a traditional aspect of ‘participation’ in church life,” Martin said.

The Pope does not change Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, marriage, birth control or abortion in the paper.

In fact, he reiterates that marriage between a man and a woman remains the Catholic ideal, superior to other forms of union.

“In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full idea of marriage,” he writes.

A “great variety of family situations … can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage,” he says.

And he holds the line against artificial birth control, rejecting the phrase “safe sex.”

The very wording, he says, operates as if “an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against.”

More tolerance, less judgment

But he calls much more for tolerance and mercy than for judgment in the paper.

“There is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems,” he writes.

“Every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration.”

There are about 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world, the Vatican calculates. That’s a little more than half the world’s Christians, according to the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington.

The Catholic population in the so-called global South is growing in influence. Pope Francis is a reflection of that trend – he’s from Argentina, making him the first Pope from the region.

The Pope tells priests that they should make decisions appropriate to their local conditions.

“Each country or region … can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs,” he writes in a possible effort to satisfy both liberals and conservatives by decentralizing authority.

He tries to take the heat out of the culture wars by admitting a measure of Catholic responsibility for them.

“At times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped to contribute to today’s problematic situation,” he writes.

In addition to the many sections of the paper that will be seen as statements of Vatican policy, it also explores the practical problems that married couples face and advises them to work through them together.

And Francis allows a little poetry to seep into the document, too, writing: “Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope.”

It’s hard to change the Catholic Church, even if you’re the Pope