Long Island Catholics praised Pope Francis’ proclamation on family life as his boldest reform-minded step yet, with some saying it will open the doors to Catholics who feel alienated from the Church.
“It is as big as Francis has been to this point,” said Julie E. Byrne, an associate professor at Hofstra University who holds the Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies.
Francis’ focus on mercy and welcome “could not be more of a sea change in the Church,” Byrne said.
While the pope’s previous encyclicals, documents and statements on the environment, refugees and international politics were important, this one on the family — titled “The Joy of Love” — “hits home the most,” she said.
Yanira Chacon-Lopez , an outreach worker at St. Brigid’s parish in Westbury, called it “a beautiful document. I am so happy the pope has written a document like this,” she said in Spanish. “It is a real challenge that our leaders be more open.”
On the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion, Francis issued an invitation for them to meet with their parish priest and discuss “regularizing” their status in the Church — leading to some receiving Communion, Byrne said.
“That’s transformative, as is this Pope,” said Richard Koubek, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Wyandanch.
“I am really impressed with how Francis is restoring the traditionally revered role individual conscience plays in church teachings,” Koubek said. “His revival of the internal forum, for example, in which a priest and parishioner can discern whether a divorce is the only morally acceptable option, is refreshing.”
While Francis maintains a “resounding no” on the Church recognizing same-sex marriages, he does not condemn same-sex civil unions, Byrne said.
“I think there will be a lot of pushback from conservatives around the world” to the document, she said. “Many leaders of the church are from the [Pope] Benedict XVI and John Paul II era, and do appreciate a Church that has very clear lines about how it deals with family in terms of church regulation.”
The document “is not a major departure from church teachings, but it is, I think, a major shift in emphasis of language,” said Phyllis Zagano, senior research associate-in-residence and an adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra.
“Francis is demonstrating an understanding of the situation of the world, that everything cannot be handled by throwing a book of rules at people,” she said. “He is recognizing that people in what has come to be known as ‘irregular situations’ or ‘irregular relationships,’ if they wish to remain Christian they are just walking away from the Catholic Church and finding homes in other churches or denominations that welcome them.”