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Published On: Fri, Apr 8th, 2016

Pope Francis tells Catholics to follow ‘conscience’ on contraception, difficult issues over doctrine, dogma

Pope Francis said Friday that Catholics should look to their own consciences more than Vatican rules to navigate the complexities of sex, marriage and family life, demanding the church shift its emphasis from doctrine to mercy in confronting some of the most difficult issues facing the faithful.

In a major church document entitled “The Joy of Love,” Francis made no explicit change in church doctrine and upheld church teaching on the lifelong bond of marriage between a man and a woman.

“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” he 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.”

Pope Francis donkeyhoteyOn contraception, Francis made no mention of the “unlawful birth control methods” rejected in “Humanae Vitae” and stressed that a couple’s individual conscience, not just dogmatic rules imposed on them across the board, must guide their decisions and the church’s pastoral practice.

“We have been called to form consciences, not replace to them,” he said.

“It can no longer simply be said that all those in any irregular situations are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace,” he wrote. Even those in an “objective situation of sin” can be in a state of grace, and can even be more pleasing to God by trying to improve, he said.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, told a Vatican press conference that while there was no explicit change in church doctrine about the family, the document contained an “organic development” in church teaching.

“It’s the classic case of an organic development of doctrine. There is innovation and continuity,” he said. “There are true novelties in this document, but no ruptures.”

Pope Francis said the rigorous response proposed by the conservatives was inconsistent with Jesus’ message of mercy.

“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God,” he said. “Let us remember that a small step in the midst of great human limitations can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.”

Pope Francis greets a baby as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) May 20, 2015.  photo courtesy of USCCB

Pope Francis greets a baby as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) May 20, 2015. photo courtesy of USCCB

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