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Pope Francis Evolves on the Divorced and Unmarried But Stands Firm Against Gay Marriage

Pope Francis opens the church doors to the divorced and nontraditional couples, but stands by gay marriage ban.

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During his visit to the United States last September, Pope Francis won praise from the White House for his call on two popular progressive causes: upping the tempo against climate change and treating immigrants with more dignity. Now, and even as the pontiff calls on his church to be less judgmental and more welcoming to nontraditional couples, his views on gay marriage remain the same — he’s firmly against it.  

In a 263-page document known as an apostolic exhortation and titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love,” Francis called Friday for priests to be more open to gay people, single parents, divorced Catholics, and heterosexual couples who live together before marriage.

“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,” Francis wrote, although he did not give specific instructions on how to do this.

Still, the paper represents yet another way Francis is trying to adjust the Catholic Church as the world evolves. He’s made helping the poor and immigrants a cornerstone of his time leading the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics — 71 million of whom live in the United States. With Friday’s exhortation, the Argentine-born pope is urging leaders of a still-conservative worldwide church they should be more open to nontraditional couples, which are much more commonplace than they were a generation ago.

Yet he continues to insist that the only valid marriage is between a man and a woman. Speaking to the New York Times, Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for gay Catholics, said the document “does not inspire joy in LGBT Catholics and their supporters.”

Other reactions were more positive. The U.S. Conference of Bishops, which has clashed with Francis’ priorities in the past, offered praise for his standing firm on the Catholic Church’s longstanding definition of marriage.

“We welcome this teaching from Pope Francis as the fruit of the synodal process started by him more than two years ago — a process that has inspired in our church, and indeed all over the world, a renewed attention to the importance of marriage and the family for all of society,” said Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the council’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

Friday’s document is a result of two Synods, or gatherings of Catholic bishops, which have taken place over the last two years. Francis urged his charges to be more honest than they have in the past.

On the same day the document was released, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders said he’s been invited to the Vatican for a meeting on environmental, social, and economic issues. He told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”  he was “very moved by the invitation” and that he’s a “very, very big fan of the pope.” Sanders has based his campaign on social justice issues.

Photo credit: FRANCO ORIGLIA/Getty Images

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