Area Catholics praise Pope Francis’ document on families

When Beatrice Soublet and her then-fiance, a cradle Catholic, began to plan their wedding, the question arose about her previous marriage, which ended in divorce.

Soublet knew she would not be able to take Holy Communion with her soon-to-be husband. Her options were an annulment of her first marriage or to not be married in the Catholic Church.

She received an annulment.

“It would have been a whole different process,” she said. “It would have put a different face on the relationship and our future.”

That’s why Soublet, a 72-year-old retired grandmother from East Point and converted Catholic, applauded the release of Pope Francis’ document on the family that urges, in part, a more accepting approach to divorced and remarried Catholics.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Soublet. “It’s more welcoming and opens the door to be more forgiving and accepting of people’s life experiences. It’s more like opening the arms of Christ.”

The apostolic exhortation called "Amoris Laetitia," Latin for "The Joy of Love," doesn't change church doctrine for the world's 1.3 billion Catholics.

Still, experts hailed it as a significant letter.

"It may not open the door, but perhaps it lets everyone know that the key is under the mat," said Phillip Thompson, executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University. "It's not in opposition to the synod, which is not surprising. (However) this could be another step in the organic development of doctrine."

The wide-ranging document touches on contraceptives, sex education and gay marriage. It urges bishops and priests to be more discerning — instead of judgmental — over family situations and more accepting of nontraditional families.

It does not lessen the church’s official stance on gay marriage, saying that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, should be respected “in his or her dignity and treated with consideration. … As for proposals to place unions between 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.”

Studies indicate many Catholics are ready for the church to be more in step with modern times.

Nine in 10 U.S. Catholics say a family headed by a married mother and father is the ideal situation for raising children, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey.

However, other types of families, including those in which the parents are gay, divorced or unmarried parents living together, are acceptable as well.

For instance, 43 percent of those surveyed said a gay or lesbian household was acceptable or “as good as any other arrangement” and 31 percent found a household of divorced parents was acceptable.

“I think that it’s fabulous that the pope is encouraging the church to be more open, loving and acceptable of everyone,” said Janine Brown of Atlanta, a retiree and member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. “He pushes us in a very gentle way.”

Connor Dwyer is not Catholic, but he still took note of the document.

He praised it for its “heart.” Before Pope Francis, he may not have paid much attention to anything coming from the Vatican.

“I am such a fan of what Pope Francis has been doing, especially around unifying people from different faiths and sects of Christianity,” said Dwyer, 24, a graphic designer, photographer and SCAD student. “I think Jesus’ heart is to love people, before any religious rules. Anything in the Bible can be boiled down to loving God and loving your neighbor. If you’re doing that, you’re hitting the nail on the head. People are going to get offended, but I think that’s what Jesus would do.”