How Pope Francis Is Rebuilding the Family

23 Sep How Pope Francis Is Rebuilding the Family

Weeks from Pope Francis’s arrival in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, he finds himself caught in a crossfire.

His announcement that he has granted all priests full faculties to absolve the sin of abortion — something which is usually reserved to bishops alone — during the forthcoming Year of Mercy has provoked a flurry of interest among journalists who normally show little interest in Catholic confession practices. Once again Francis has managed to scandalize some by what they consider his lenient notion of mercy and others by clearly affirming traditional Catholic beliefs: namely, in this case, that abortion is so grave a sin that it requires special forgiveness.

But it is precisely this combination of limitless mercy and firm adherence to fundamental Catholic teaching which is key to understanding Francis’s moral teaching, particularly on the family and marriage.

When he calls for mercy for those alienated from the Church, he is accused of diluting traditional doctrines on marriage and family. When he critiques the “ideological colonization” of gay marriage and gender ideology, or reaffirms marriage as for life, he is charged with failing those most in need of compassion.

A half-million-strong petition of Catholics recently called for him to clarify his support for church teaching while recently the New York Times published a summary of his quotes over the past two years under the headline, “Pope Francis’s mixed messages on sexuality.”

But through the lens of the Gospel, there is nothing mixed about them. When Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, he didn’t overlook her sin — and called her to conversion. But at the same time, he saw her as a victim in need of liberation and healing. Pope Francis is inviting the Church — above all in the synod process that concludes next month — to live in that tension. For many, it is a deeply uncomfortable experience.


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Jack Valero is co-founder of Catholic Voices.


Jack Valero