“Young people no longer want to get married, or prefer simply to live together; marriage is in crisis, and therefore the family is too,” he said, adding that "the pastoral problem regarding the family is vast."
The Catholic Church will be addressing this problem in coming months during an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held at the Vatican on October 5-19. The theme will be “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization."
However, the pontiff expressed his frustration with those who associate the upcoming synod solely with whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Holy Communion.
Media attention has focused on the divorce/remarriage issue after a controversial speech by Cardinal Walter Kasper in February, in which the cardinal questioned the Church's ban on allowing divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment to receive Communion.
“I do not like the fact that many people, even within the Church, have said that it will be the Synod about remarried divorcees, as if it could simply be reduced to a case study: can they receive Communion or not? The issue is much broader,” the Holy Father said during his May 26th press conference.
“It is necessary to study the faith with which a person approaches marriage and clarify that divorcees are not excommunicated, and very often they are treated as if they are,” Pope Francis said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “divorce is a grave offense against the natural law” and that it is immoral “because it introduces disorder into the family and into society.” However, it also states that “the separation of spouses... can be legitimate in certain cases.”
But according to the Catechism, “contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery,” which is why divorced Catholics who remarry without first obtaining an annulment are banned from receiving Communion.
The Holy Father briefly addressed the matter of the Church’s celibate priesthood, stating that because it “is not a dogma of faith, the door is always open” for allowing Western priests to marry.
However, Pope Francis also said that he “greatly appreciates” celibacy as a “rule of life” and considers it “a gift for the Church.”