Pope John Paul II, in a meeting today with bishops from every American diocese, reiterated in uncompromising terms the Roman Catholic Church's teaching that birth control, abortion, divorce and sex outside marriage are wrong.
But John Paul, in turning his American ministry to a focus on intimate personal concerns, had no harsh words for catholics who violate these precepts. There was no suggestion of hellfire and brimstone in his speech.
In a homily immediately after his meeting with the bishops at Chicago's Quigley South Seminary, he stressed that "love for each other" is the way he feels the church should deal with dissident Catholics.
"No one in the [church] should ever feel alienated or unloved, even when tensions arise," he said.
He addressed the bishops midway through the fifth busy day of his American visit, a day in which the people in Chicago -- site of the country's largest Catholic diocese -- saw the continuing combination of ceremony and substance that has marked the trip.
The pope celebrated a morning mass in his native language at a heavily Polish parish, a joyous event in which women swooned, men wept openly and one young mother held her blind infant forward for a papal touch, saying that she hoped for a miracle.
This afternoon, about 1.5 million people gathered for an outdoor mass at Grant Park, at the edge of the downtown loop. Tonight, the energetic 59-year-old attended a Chicago Symphony concert. He leaves here early Saturday for a two-day stay in Washington.
As he had done in previous addresses this week, the pope built his speech to the bishops around the central themes of unity of faith and the value of rigid personal discipline.
The pope's comments today on marital and sexual issues came mainly in his remarks expressing approval for a pastoral letter the American bishops issued two years ago that firmly embraced traditional church teaching in this area.
"You faced the question of indissolubility of marriage," he said of the bishops' letter, "rightly stating: 'The covenant between a man and woman joined in Christian marriage is as indissoluble and irrevocable as God's love for his people and Christ's love for his church.'"
Catholics today can remain in the church after divorce, but the church does not recognize the divorce. Thus, a divorced Catholic who remarries is considered to have sinned and is no longer permitted to receive the sacrament of communion.
The pope also spoke about sexual intercourse in referring to the bishops' pastoral letter: "In portraying the sexual union between husband and wife as a special expression of their coveted love, you rightly stated: 'Sexual intercourse is a moral and human good only within marriage. Outside marriage it is wrong.'"
"In exalting the beauty of marriage," the pope said, "you rightly spoke against the ideology of contraception and contraceptive acts."
The pope also praised the bishops for denouncing abortion in their pastoral letter, and he commended a passage in the letter that said, "Euthanasia or mercy killing . . . is a grave moral evil . . . "
The pope also expressed his agreement with the bishops' condemnation of homosexuality. The pastoral letter said that "homosexuality . . . as distinguished from homosexual orientation, is morally wrong."
Many active church members in the country openly disagree with some of the moral lessons John Paul reiterated to the bishops.
A Gallup poll earlier this year showed that 73 percent of American Catholics believe that birth control is a morally acceptable practice, and 69 percent think that Catholics should be permitted to divorce and remarry in the church.
On abortion, there is less open dissent, but here, too, the church's doctrine is not universally accepted. About 20 percent of American Catholics believe abortion should be a matter of personal choice, according to polls, and 44 percent think the church should permit abortions under certain circumstances.
And many of those who have broken with official doctrine apparently have little or no sense of guilt about their decision.
Members of the clergy, too, have broken with official doctrine in some areas. "I believe one can be in a position of disagreement and still be a loyal Catholic," says the Rev. Richard McCormick of the Kennedy Center for Ethics at Georgetown University, who disagrees with the church's ban on contraception.
Catholic leaders said they did not expect the pope's forthright statements to drive any significant number of people from the church, since most Catholics are accustomed to such declarations from the hierarchy.
"I think that most of the people who would have the church over (birth control) have already left," said the Rev. Philip Land of the Center for Concern in Washington.
In earlier periods, the pope's dictates were widely considered to represent moral absolutes that could not be defied. For contemporary Catholics, though, the question seems more complex.
"The faithful continue to be desirous of being informed by the church," said the Rev. John Hoy, a Jesuit scholar at Georgetown. "But I don't think that teaching is the sole determinant of the conscience of the Catholic . . . . There are a lot of factors that go into the final choices that a faithful Catholic makes."
The pope's blunt statements on the controversial subjects of marriage and sexual concerns came one day after he took a similarly strong stance on other questions that have sparked protest in this country -- the church's ban on marriage for priests and ordination of women. At a result, he has drawn the first forceful protests of his American tour. Both Catholic and nonreligious groups have taken him to task for failing to reconsider traditional church doctrine.
Feminists, Catholic and otherwise, expressed dismay at his positions on women's ordination, birth control and abortion.
Eleanor Smeal, a Catholic who is president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), said at the group's convention in Los Angeles that "the pope is absolutely out of touch with millions of his own people" on the abortion question. "He is hurting the church."
A group of Catholic clergy and lay members urged priests to boycott part of John Paul's mass in Washington on Sunday to protest his stand against admitting women to the priesthood.
The Washington-based group, Catholic Advocates for Equality, said its 2,000 members would carry protest banners to the mass and other points the pope will visit in Washington. Its goal, according to Sister Sally Thomas, one of the group's organizers, is to "repudiate the pervasive sexism in the church we love."
The pope will not be surprised by such a response to his views, judging from what he told the bishops today. "It is not possible for us to avoid all criticism," he said. "Nor is it possible for us to please everyone."
In a homily before a huge congregation at Grant Park later today, the pope conceded that there are dissenters within the American church, but urged that they be dealt with in a spirit of charity.
"Let love for each other and love for the truth be the answer to polarization when factions are formed because of differing views on matters that relate to faith or the priorities for action," he said.