Three weeks before pope francis’ first visit to the U.S., the Bishop of Rome made clear that he is not done reforming the Catholic Church. Instead, he has been revving up for his declared Holy Year of Mercy, which begins in December. That’s when he has called the faithful, especially those who have been distant from the church, to return for confession and forgiveness. Here’s a look at the three recent announcements meant to open the church doors wider:
1. FAST-TRACKING ANNULMENTS
In one of the biggest changes to church marriage law in 300 years, Pope Francis streamlined the annulment process on Sept. 8. An annulment, which declares a previous union invalid, is required for divorced Catholics who have remarried and want to take Communion. The new process is shorter, eliminates most fees, puts more power in the hands of local bishops and takes effect the day the Year of Mercy starts. “All this has always been done with the supreme law of the salvation of souls as a guide,” the Pope explained.
By announcing the change before the October Synod of the Bishops, the Pope also freed up time for church leaders to move past the issue of annulments and instead address other challenges, from poverty to the debate over homosexuality.
2. FORGIVING ABORTION
Pope Francis announced on Sept. 1 that all priests will have the authority to forgive the Catholic sin of abortion during the Year of Mercy. That power has traditionally been reserved for the bishops, with some exceptions. The church still condemns the practice of abortion, but the Pope hopes more people will return to the church to confess their sins.
“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal,” the Pope wrote. “What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.”
3. HOUSING REFUGEES
As Europe’s migrant crisis grows–and three days after a photo of a dead toddler fleeing Syria with his family went viral–the Pope asked every Catholic parish, religious community and monastery in Europe to take in a refugee family. The Vatican itself will house two migrant families in its own apartments and plans to cover the families’ health care as well. “The Gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and those who have been abandoned,” the Pope said when he announced the move in his Sunday Angelus on Sept. 6.
This appears in the September 21, 2015 issue of TIME.
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