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Partial papal fig leaf for unmarried couples, divorced Catholics

The pope has said individual conscience, not hard and fast rules, should dictate Catholics' attitudes on love and sex in a new document on the subject. He opted, however, to maintain the status quo on homosexuality.

Pope Francis released a new set of guidelines on love, sex and marriage for Catholics on Friday. In the 256-page tome titled "Amoris Laetitia" or "The Joy of Love," the pontiff reached out to divorcees within the church, but held the line on homosexuality.

In the document, Francis insists that individual conscience guide the faithful on matters of love and sex, and says it is not for the Vatican to hand down black and white rules on the subject.

"I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion," he wrote. "But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness."

Church needs 'self-criticism'

He also added that the church had been "too defensive" in the past by sticking to an idealized image of marriage and that the Vatican needed "a healthy dose of self-criticism" on the subject.

Watch video 03:33

DW's religious affairs correspondent Martin Gak on 'Amoris Laetitia' ahead of its release

The one relatively new stance offered by the pontiff concerned unmarried but cohabitating couples, saying that they should be "welcomed and guided." The pope's comments are a turnaround from the traditional view of unmarried couples as "living in sin." He did not make it clear, however, whether or not unmarried couples should now receive communion.

As for divorced Catholics, Francis wrote that "they are not excommunicated and they should not be treated as such," again avoiding a clear stand on the divisive issue of whether or not they should be able to receive communion at mass.

In a disappointing move for the LGBT community and those who support gay rights, the pontiff, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, stuck to the status quo by saying "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."

He did, however, call for a removal of "every sign of unjust discrimination" towards individuals based on sexual orientation.

es/msh (AP, AFP)

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