Pope Francis signaled a transition in Catholic thought on divorce Friday.
The pope released his apostolic exhortation, a 256-page writing called “The Joy of Love,” in which he encouraged clergy to be more lenient on divorced Catholics, possibly even letting them take communion in some cases.
Catholic teaching has traditionally dictated divorced Catholics can’t take communion unless they get an annulment of their first marriage or don’t have sex with their new spouse. Pope Francis did not change that rule, but did say clergy should be more lenient in how they examine and enforce “particular cases.” The pope said they should look at “mitigating factors” and essentially encouraged clergy to use their discretion a little more rather than always sticking to the hard and fast rule.
“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” he wrote.
The strictness of the application on divorce varies. Some parts of the world are very conservative, but in Germany, for example, many remarried people receive communion, The Wall Street Journal reports.
“This document clearly opens up the possibility that a priest may determine that a divorced and remarried person is worthy to receive communion, but under what terms and why is muddy,” R. R. Reno, Catholic theologian and editor of First Things, told The New York Times.
But Pope Francis seemed to anticipate this objection.
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” Pope Francis wrote. “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”
The document addressed a range of other topics including a portion reaffirming traditional marriage, but it emphasized welcoming people to the church and showing mercy.
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