ROME (Christian Examiner) – Catholics worldwide are anticipating the publication of Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation on family later this week, and there may be a few surprises inside for those who are divorced and wish to remarry.
According to the Vatican, the exhortation called Amoris Laetitia, or "Joy of Love," will be made available to the Catholic faithful April 8. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod of bishops, and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, will present the document to the church.
Traditionally, the document is based on the recommendations of the church's bishops, but if anything, Pope Francis has shown a willingness to break from tradition. He has signaled in the past that the church should begin to reconsider how the doctrine on divorce and remarriage is addressed in the modern world.
In their report from the synod on the family last year, more than 270 of the church's bishops claimed "the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more integrated into Christian communities in a variety of possible ways, while avoiding any chance of scandal."
The "scandal" referenced by the bishops would be allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to participate in the Eucharist (communion). That, they said, should still not be done.
While the church has signaled a softening of its stance on remarriage, the biggest question, which may remain unanswered, is what approach the church will take toward gays and lesbians, same-sex marriage, and the parenting of children by gay parents. It may not, however, remain unanswered.
Pope Francis has repeatedly shown a willingness to dialogue on the issue of same-sex marriage and has presented, what is for many, an equally softened stance on homosexuality.
In 2013, for instance, Pope Francis seemed to say homosexuals could be Catholic without ceasing to practice homosexuality.
"If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem ... they're our brothers," Francis said.
After the synod on the family, the church's bishops reported that the church must extend "boundless love to every person without exception," and said the church reiterates that "every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his/her dignity and received with respect."
But bishops also cited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the theological watchdog of the church, which wrote in its work, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:
"Regarding proposals to place unions of homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, '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.'"
What remains to be seen is whether Pope Francis will maintain that position while still finding a way to allow churches to bless same-sex marriages. That position was advocated by a Belgian bishop in January 2015.
In April 2015, a pro-gay Catholic bishop in Malta blessed the engagement rings for a male homosexual couple.