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U.S. Catholics Divided Over Pope Francis' Family Life Guidelines


We're going to hear more now about the reaction among Catholics in the U.S. to the pope's pronouncement. NPR's Tom Gjelten has been talking with them.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: This papal message was widely anticipated but closely guarded. Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Marriage, Life and Family at the U.S. Conference of Bishops, didn't see the document until yesterday. His reaction - it was exactly what he wanted - a call for the church to be more missionary in its work and focus less on making sure Catholics stay in line.

RICHARD MALONE: When it comes to our ministry with married people, including folks who are in situations of divorce and divorce and remarriage, the pope is calling us very much to embrace all of our people whatever be their situation, to listen to their stories, to do everything that we can to make sure they never feel excluded from the life of the church.

GJELTEN: Under church law, Catholics who get divorced are allowed to take communion unless they remarry, in which case they have to have their first marriage annulled. The church does not recognize same-sex marriages. Those are the rules of church doctrine, and nothing in the pope's message changes that.


BLASE CUPICH: This is not about a reform of rules. It's about reform of the church.

GJELTEN: Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago says he intends to use the document as a teaching guide to get his priests and bishops to rethink their approach to all those Catholics whose personal situations may not correspond to the church ideal.


CUPICH: I would ask them to make sure that they reach out to all Catholics, regardless of their sexual orientation or the circumstances that they find in life.

GJELTEN: Will this be enough? A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that most U.S. Catholics would like to see the church change its doctrines on divorce and communion. Most do not regard homosexuality as a sin. Nearly half think the church should recognize same-sex marriages. But Kathie Amidei, a counselor who works with divorced Catholics at a parish in Milwaukee says such findings may not mean Catholics are necessarily disappointed by the pope's new message.

KATHIE AMIDEI: Catholics are realistic about what we can change and can't change. As lay Catholics, we're very aware of where decisions like that are made, and so while they may long for more leniency in church teachings, I don't know that people's faith depends on that changing.

GJELTEN: The pope's message will be followed closely by young Catholics. Lisa Metz teaches at an all-girls Catholic school in Milwaukee. And the exhortation document was a big topic of discussion in her classes today.

LISA METZ: I mean, girls came in and said, why is the pope's name all over my Twitter feed or why am I seeing the pope's name come up on Facebook so much this morning? And it was a chance for me to say, here's what's coming out.

GJELTEN: Metz says she made clear that church doctrine is not changing, but she highlighted the inclusive tone of the document. She thinks it may help young Catholics consider what relationship they will have with their church.

METZ: Is this something I really want to be a part of? Is this something that resonates with my understanding of what I believe Jesus Christ taught, of what I believe this church is about? They're asking the question in order to see where they fit in.

GJELTEN: For some, the pope's message fell far short of what they wanted because it did not hint to change in doctrine. Catholics for choice reacting to the papal message said it will do little to change the basic fact that on such issues as abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage, Catholics simply disregard church teachings. Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.