Pope Francis has released a landmark statement on family values, urging people to take a more accepting tone towards gay people.
In the defining document entitled Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), Francis addresses a number of issues ranging from the long-debated role of remarried divorcees to the role of youth in the Catholic Church.
And while his call for greater acceptance towards the LGBT community will be welcomed by some progressive groups, the Pope’s comments on abortion are still in line with the Church’s traditional teachings.
“I reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity, and treated with consideration, while every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence,” he wrote.
But the Pontiff stopped short of suggesting an alteration to Church doctrine, stating that same-sex unions could not be equated with marriage.
He added: “Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, 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.”
Francis affirmed the Vatican’s position on abortion in the document, voicing its opposition to the procedure in all circumstances.
“No alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life,” he wrote.
The Church leader described creation as something which “must be received as a gift”, offered no opening towards fertility treatment and suggested that infertile couples should adopt.
The document, which represents the culmination of three years’ work by the Pope and is based on two Synods in Rome, also called for a softer approach towards divorced Catholics.
Francis referred to them as “imperfect” but said that “no one can be condemned forever”.
He described divorce as an “evil”, which priests should help Catholics avoid, but also called for greater understanding towards those whose marriages had broken down.
The Pope did not advocate a change to the rules regarding who can and cannot receive communion but said that remarried divorcees should be made to feel as if they are part of the parish.
“They should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment,” he wrote.
This is something that ran throughout his message, asking priests to consider their specific communities’ needs, rather than merely enforcing rigid Church guidelines.
Addressing the diminishing appeal of the Church to young people, Francis urged clergymen to promote the joys of matrimony.
The 79-year-old also dedicated two sides of the 260-page treatise to “the erotic dimension of love”, where sexuality was promoted as a positive aspect of marriage.
He said: “It must be seen as a gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses.”
However, the Pontiff asserted the Vatican’s opposition to contraception by attacking formal sex education in schools.
“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,” he wrote.