Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has been known as one of the most progressive popes the Vatican has ever seen. The Religion News Service explains that he “has said that the church must be more merciful and open, and he has encouraged debate on changing pastoral practices.” His positive influence on the Catholic Church is proving that traditional religious institutions can continue to adapt to modern culture. Whether or not you align with the values of the Catholic religion, Pope Francis’ forward-looking attitude is undeniably commendable.
Francis’ progressive goals for the Church were especially demonstrated by the new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetita, released on April 8. It was published in multiple languages including English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Amoris Laetita is Latin for the “Joy of Love” and Francis wrote about marriage and family in context of the Catholic Church. He addressed many controversially charged issues that other popes have been hesitant to confront head on. This document—along with other actions of Francis—are positive steps that illustrate how traditional religious institutions can continue to adapt with the modern culture.
The New York Times reported that some of Francis’ transformative messages in Amoris Laetita included: an appeal for greater empathy, reviving injured marriages, denouncing antigay violence, encouraging single parents, questioning “safe sex” messages and creating a new route back into the Church for divorced Catholics.
These are all widespread issues in both religious and secular societies. Furthermore, the Washington Post predicted that although the Pope cannot make his changes too drastic, the exhortation serves as “symbolic” and will have a strong “media resonance.” This proved to be true, as many Catholic media outlets such as the National Catholic Reporter are encouraging Catholics to “take Amoris Laetitia’s challenge seriously.”
Francis, however, still did not make any changes to the Church’s strong stance against same-sex marriage. This personally seemed a major downfall of Amoris Laetita, albeit an expected one. The sacrament of marriage is one of the core beliefs of the Catholic religion; one can only hope Francis’ loving approach to Catholicism will eventually evoke greater acceptance. Francis did, however, speak about the need to regard all people with love. He expressed that “every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity.”
While Francis addressed the specific issues previously mentioned, he also generally spoke about the need for the Church to be more attentive. As The New York Times noted, he claims, “The church has made a mistake in alienating families,” and continued to describe “the pressures brought on families by poverty, migration, drug abuse and violence.” Admitting these mistakes is critical to transforming the Church and tailoring what some see as an “outdated” religion to one that accommodates modern pressures.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, the influence of Francis cannot be ignored. The Catholic Church is not solely just a belief system, but is also a transnational political and cultural actor that experiences widespread power. Francis is using that power to try and bring greater inclusion to a sometimes harsh world—which can give us a certain sense of hope.
A common practice of inclusion and acceptance is necessary, regardless of religious, ethnic or cultural divides. In our modern day society, this seems to be becoming more and more complicated. There is an undeniable importance in the fact that as millions of Catholics and non-Catholics listened, Francis ended a speech last year exclaiming that the “Good Shepard … excludes no one from his infinite love!”