World

In family debate, pope and bishops emphasizing being the 'best possible' Catholic, not perfect

  • Pope Francis smiles as he walks alongside Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, left, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prior to start an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    Pope Francis smiles as he walks alongside Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, left, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prior to start an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)  (The Associated Press)

  • Pope Francis greets journalists as he walks alongside Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, background left, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, as he arrives for an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    Pope Francis greets journalists as he walks alongside Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, background left, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, as he arrives for an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)  (The Associated Press)

  • A Swiss guard salutes as prelates arrive for an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    A Swiss guard salutes as prelates arrive for an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)  (The Associated Press)

Pope Francis' emphasis on a church that is merciful rather than moralizing is having a pronounced effect at a meeting of bishops on family life, with bishops emphasizing that the faithful should be the "best possible" Catholics they can be, even if they're not perfect ones.

Bishops have referred frequently to the theological concept of the "law of gradualness," which encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.

The concept has been applied to couples who are living together but not married, with priests urged not to condemn them but rather help them see how marriage in the church can deepen their bond.

Cardinal Peter Erdo, a top synod organizer, said the concept should even be applied to married couples concerning artificial contraception.