Pope Francis on Family Love: What You Need to Know

03/04/2016_Pope Francis
Pope Francis in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 3. The pope has issued a document urging compassion toward the divorced. Tony Gentile/Reuters

Pope Francis on Friday published a document, Amoris Laetitia (or The Joy of Love), a summary of his stance on family issues. It follows two meetings, referred to as synods, held at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015 among bishops and other senior members of the Catholic Church.

Here are five things you need to know:

The pope has urged tolerance of cultural and geographical differences, and of the practises of individual families. "What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous—almost!—for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion," he writes. He adds that not every moral or religious quandry can be settled centrally by the Church. "Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium," he says.

His stance on divorce is compassionate. The document acknowledges that, in the case of "excessive demands," "violence," "grave injustice" or "chronic ill-treatment," divorce can be "inevitable" or "even morally necessary." In particular, the Pope endorsed making it easier for those who divorce and then remarry in civil ceremonies to be re-integrated into the Church. "No-one can be condemned forever," Francis said, and later wrote that "such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always." It appears to endorse a system proposed by Church progressives that allows people to work with a bishop to potentially begin taking communion again after divorce and remarriage, but did not push for any change in formal Church rules on this issue.

There's mixed news for gay people. The document cites findings of the synods that "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," and condemning international aid given to poor countries conditional on their promoting equal marriage laws. But he issued a commitment to preventing mistreatment of homosexual people, saying "we would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration."

No change on reproduction. The pope is not willing to change the Church's stance on abortion or on fertility treatment. Responding to pro-choice arguments on terminating pregnancies, he said "no alleged right to one's own body can justify a decision to terminate that life." But on sex education for children, he is more positive, saying that sound education needs to be carried out "within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving." Discussion of safe sex in schools, however, is to be avoided as it "convey[s] a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against," he said. Pregnancy, meanwhile, "must be received as a gift" and not by design.

Technology can be dangerous. The septegenarian pope warns that the online world can damage people's approach to relationships: "They believe, along the lines of social networks, that love can be connected or disconnected at the whim of the consumer, and the relationship quickly 'blocked.'"