Conscience comes before strict Church rules, insists Pope
Pope Francis has said that individual conscience should be the guiding principle for Catholics negotiating the complexities of sex, marriage and family life in a major document that rejects the emphasis on black and white rules for the faithful.
In the 256-page document The Joy Of Love, Francis makes no change in Church doctrine, but in selectively citing his predecessors and emphasising his own teachings, he makes clear that he wants a revolution in the way priests accompany Catholics.
He says the Church must no longer sit in judgment and "throw stones" against those who fail to live up to the Gospel's ideals of marriage and family life. He said of the Church: "We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them."
On thorny issues such as contraception he stressed that a couple's individual conscience - not dogmatic rules imposed across the board - must guide their decisions and the Church's pastoral practice.
The document's release marks the culmination of a divisive two-year consultation of ordinary Catholics and the Church hierarchy that Francis initiated in hopes of understanding the problems facing Catholic families today and providing them with better pastoral care.
The most divisive issue was whether Francis would loosen the Vatican's strict position on whether Catholics who divorce and remarry can receive Communion. He didn't, but urged priests to be more understanding.