Pope Francis has stated that the Church “must not withdraw into dogma” and should recognise that “the world has changed”.
As the bishops prepared to begin discussions on issues relating to with the family, Francis indicated that he wanted clergy to be less judgmental and more understanding of those living outside Catholic norms.
He told an Argentinian newspaper: “The world has changed and the Church can not withdraw into supposed interpretations of dogma. We have to approach these social difficulties, both new and old, by extending a hand to give comfort, not by stigmatising and criticising people.”
His comments were published yesterday, the same day he celebrated a Mass to open the two-week Synod of Bishops which has as its theme “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”.
Francis told La Nacion that while there had been “a lot of emphasis” in the run-up to the Synod on the issue of the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, other concerns deserved attention as well, such as young people viewing cohabitation as preferable to marriage.
He said: “It is an issue that undoubtedly will be debated. But, for me, an equally important problem is the new habits of young people. Young people are not getting married. It is the culture of the time.”
He added: “What should the Church do? Expel them from their breast? Or approach them and try to bring them close and teach them the word of God? I am in favour of the latter position.”
Despite the conflicting opinions, bishops should speak freely at the synod he said, he said.
Francis said at the Synod of Bishops that took place in 2001 there was a cardinal who told them what you could say and what you couldn’t. He added: “That won’t happen this time.”
It was for that reason that he has given bishops the power to elect the presidents of their own conferences, he said.
Francis claimed he had no objection the publication of a book by five cardinals, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Apostolic Signatura, setting out their position against revising the prohibition on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion.
He said: “Everyone has something to contribute. It gives me pleasure to have debates with conservative bishops when the arguments are intellectually well-formed.”
But he warned Catholics not to count on changes being announced at the end of this month’s meetings, which will be followed by a second synod next October. He said: “Don't expect a decision next week … This is only the initial push.”