Pope calls for compassion to 'imperfect' divorced Catholics but remains resistant to gay unions

Pope Francis has called for a more "merciful" Catholic Church showing more compassion to "imperfect" congregation who are divorced or remarried.

In a long-awaited treatise called "Amoris Laetitia" (The Joy of Love) presented by the Synod of Bishops, the Pope said that individual conscience should be the guiding principle for Catholics in relation to sex, marriage and family life.

But the Pope reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage although he said that homosexuals within the Church should be "respected".

The Synod of Bishops presented the Pope's comments on the family and marriage.

The 256-page document's release on Friday marks the culmination of a divisive two-year consultation of ordinary Catholics and the church's hierarchy on family issues.

It made no change to the church doctrine but Pope Francis made his case for a more merciful and loving Church.

Here are some of the key points:

  • On divorce

Pope Francis called for a Church that was less strict and more compassionate towards "imperfect" Catholics, such as those who divorced and remarried in civil ceremonies.

He added: "No one can be condemned forever."

This refers to the current teaching that divorcees cannot receive Holy Communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner.

In the eyes of the Church, the first marriage is still valid and they are seen to be living in adulterous state of sin.

The only way such Catholics can remarry is if they receive an annulment, a religious ruling that their first marriage never existed due to certain reasons such as a lack of free will.

Francis took a unilateral step last year in changing church law to make it easier to get an annulment.

The Pope called for gays in the Church to be respected but remained opposed to same-sex marriage.
  • On homosexuality

The pontiff said gays should be respected but firmly re-stated the Church's position that there are "absolutely no grounds" to equate gay unions to heterosexual marriage.

  • On sex

Francis called for young people to be better prepared for a life-long commitment and insisted on the need for sex education, albeit without focusing on contraception.

He praised the "erotic dimension" of love within marriage and said the Church needed a "healthy dose of self-criticism" for in the past preaching that procreation was the "almost exclusive" reason for marriage.

  • On contraception

In discussing the need for "responsible parenthood" and regulating the number of children, Francis made no mention of the church's opposition to artificial contraception.

However, he said that couples in their conscience should make decisions about their family size.

Citing the Vatican II document "Gaudium et Spes" Francis said:

Pope Francis made the statement after a two-year consultation on family issues among ordinary Catholics and the Church's hierarchy.
  • On abortion

He squarely rejected abortion as "horrendous" and he cited the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which deals with the issue.

  • On women

Francis condemned the "verbal, physical and sexual violence" many women endure in marriages and rejected "sexual submission" and the "reprehensible" practice of genital mutilation.

He added the belief that feminism is to blame for the crisis in families today is completely invalid.