- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2016

Pope Francis released Friday his long-awaited treatise on family life, emphasizing the Church’s need for compassion and humility for those who fail to adhere to the standard of marriage extolled in the Bible.

Although the pope reaffirmed Church teaching on marriage and family life in the 260-page treatise, he urged pastors to apply the doctrine with love rather than judgment.

“A person cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” the pontiff wrote.

At the same time, Francis underscored Church teaching on same-sex marriage, calling the union between one man and one woman the “reflection of the union between Christ and his Church.”

“Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way,” Francis wrote.

“In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, ‘as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,’” he added.

Archbishop Blase Cupich, who serves the Archdiocese of Chicago, said he found Francis’s “candor” and “honesty” refreshing, pointing to the reality that some fall short of the biblical ideal of marriage.

“For instance, he says that a healthy dose of self-criticism is in order for us pastors in the way that we treat people and the way that we present the church’s teaching,” Mr. Cupich said Friday at a press conference. “Too often, he says, we speak in a way that is far too abstract, presenting an almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and the practical possibilities of real families.”

Although the Rev. Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of Ignatius Press, called the pope’s reaffirmation of Church teaching on marriage “beautiful,” he worried that the message of compassion may get misinterpreted and “make controversy and confusion more likely.”

“I think the correct interpretation is … we have to look at every case, and help people along the way, and even though they’re in an objectively disordered case, there are subjective components, and we have to lead them through penance and participation in the full life of the Church,” Mr. Fessio said.

Indeed, it appears that some have already misinterpreted Francis’s words. When read a Huffington Post headline that said “Pope Francis Relaxes Church Rules on Divorce,” Mr. Fessio said such an interpretation is “not only misleading, it’s false.”

“He doesn’t relax the rule,” he said. “He says the rule is still there. But when we apply that rule, we have to take a person’s circumstances into account.”

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