The following is excerpted from the Deseret News. To read the full report, CLICK HERE.

Chastity before marriage is key to a union’s long-term success, according to the preface Pope Francis wrote to a new Vatican guide on marriage.

While the pope has previously said that sex outside of marriage is not the greatest sin, he said in the new guide that abstinence from sex outside of marriage strengthens the bond between a couple and helps their married life be both fulfilling and enduring.

The just-published 97-page document, “The Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life,” was created for priests and dioceses that will work with engaged couples prior to marriage. In it, the pope writes that “chastity teaches the timing and the method of true love.”

The Daily Mail quoted the pope as saying the guideline is both “a gift” and “a task.”

Because divorce rates are high and fewer people are marrying, Pope Francis wrote about a need for “renewed pastoral commitment” to help marriages and family life flourish. And he said that many of the challenges that couples face within their marriage begin with “the hedonistic mentality that distorts the beauty and depth of human sexuality.”

According to the guide, “It is worth helping young spouses to be able to find the time to deepen their friendship and to accept God’s grace. Premarital chastity certainly favors this course.”

Also, per the document: “The church should never lack courage to propose the precious virtue of chastity, even though it is by now in direct contrast with common mentality.”

Out of step?

The remarks by the pontiff have been criticized by some, including some theologians, as not in step with the times in which young couples are making the decision to marry or not marry.

The Daily Mail noted that theologian Alberto Maggi told La Repubblica newspaper that “documents like this … are a step backward.” Maggi said church leaders should instead “listen more to the reality of young people today, of how they live, before reissuing the doctrine they have always proposed.”

Others have noted that the pope has been more liberal on issues like divorce and same-sex marriage than his predecessors.

Austen Ivereigh, a British expert on Catholicism, said the pope’s preface in the guidelines doesn’t set new policy or guidance. “This is not a prohibition or a new rule,” he told the Daily Mail. “They are inviting people to follow this path. They know it goes against the grain of society. The church understands that nowadays most people cohabit and have sex before getting married.”

Ivereigh said he agreed that abstaining from sex prior to marriage could indeed reduce the rate of divorce.

To read the full report, CLICK HERE