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Catholics laud pope’s change in tone on divorce, remarriage

“This is what God and church should be about: openness and forgiveness,” Karl Aghassi of West Newton said Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Sharon Shakur became the first in her family to divorce, in 2001.

The 50-year-old devout Catholic struggled with her decision, which defied church teachings that marriage is indissoluble, but her faith helped her through that tough time.

“God’s love is for all of us,” said Shakur, after attending Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday. “It’s difficult enough to go through a divorce. You just want mercy and grace.”

On Sunday, Shakur and other Catholics in the Boston area praised Pope Francis’ proclamation on family life in which he encouraged the church to adopt a more flexible approach to divorced and remarried Catholics, opening a door to the possibility that they could receive Communion. In “Amoris Laetitia,” the apostolic exhortation released Friday, the pontiff encouraged forgiveness and inclusivity within the church.


Remarried Catholics should consult their own consciences, Francis said, and with guidance from their pastors decide how God wants them to move forward in their faith.

“This is a big step forward,” said Giovanni Fazio, 83, of Newton, who described Francis as “truly the people’s pope.”Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, was in Rome on Sunday for regularly scheduled meetings, a spokesman said, but Friday he said the document will “bear great fruit,” while cautioning Catholics to read it carefully.

“Pope Francis shows himself to be the gentle, merciful pastor who urges us all to take the time to meditate on the importance of families,” O’Malley said.

Shakur said she was married for 11 years to a man who was verbally abusive, and the better option was to leave him.

“I realized that I made a bad choice and I knew that God wasn’t in that marriage anymore,” said Shakur, of Roxbury. “I didn’t think [my divorce] would make me stop being a Catholic.”

The pope’s message was welcomed by many parishioners interviewed at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.

“If outside the church you behave as a Christian and follow what Christ taught us, then it shouldn’t be an issue,” said Maria Lopez, 41, of the South End.


Andrew Majewski, 48, who lives in the Back Bay and was at the cathedral on Sunday with his fiancée, Myra Garza, 36, also lauded the pope’s words.

“The Catholic Church puts a great emphasis on reconciliation and so to provide a path for that, framing it within the moral teachings of the gospels and the church doctrine, will be a wonderful thing,” he said.

The pontiff stopped short of changing church teachings on homosexuality, gay marriage, and contraception in his remarks. Still, some said the church is far more welcoming now than it was decades ago.

Garza said she has a gay uncle who is well-received in a church in Texas, where he lives.

“It’s a good time in the Catholic Church,” she said. “It’s good to see the church entering this new age.”

Majewski shared his fiance’s sentiments.

“We’re taught that the love of God extends to all, and if they want to celebrate the love of God they should be embraced by the Lord, by the church, and by the community,” he said.

At Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Newton, the pope’s words also were warmly received by churchgoers, who hailed him as transformative and forward-thinking.

Karl Aghassi of West Newton, 48, said the pope has made him proud to be a Catholic.

“This is what God and church should be about: openness and forgiveness,” Aghassi said.


Some who have been barred from Communion because of a divorce or their sexual orientation are pious, Aghassi said.

“Many of those people in that situation are devout Catholics who do the right thing,” he said.

The pope’s latest remarks are proof he is ushering in a new era of acceptance and rejecting the church’s previous focus on strict theological doctrine, 83-year-old Giovanni Fazio of Newton said.

“This is a big step forward,” said Fazio, who described Francis as “truly the people’s pope.”

The priests who presided over the Masses at the cathedral and at the Newton church both said they had not read the pope’s remarks and could not comment on them.

Alison Colussi, 28, of Brighton also had not read the pope’s remarks but praised him for being “down to Earth.”

Francis is “exactly what the Catholic Church needs,” she said after Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians. “People view the church as a rigid and quaint organization, and he’s creating so much room for love and openness.”

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom. Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.