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Pope Francis delivers his speech during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis called Wednesday for simplified adoption procedures and urged couples to have more children as he presided over his first general audience of the New Year with a novel supporting cast that emphasized his call for a less-clericalized Catholic Church.

For the first time, a layman and a nun provided the English and Spanish translations of Francis’ weekly catechism lesson rather than a cloaked monsignor, a small but revolutionary change for the Vatican.

Vatican monsignors from the secretariat of state have always provided the summarized translations at the Wednesday general audience. On Wednesday, the clerics only read the translations in French, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Polish and Italian.

For the first time, a layman and a nun provided the English and Spanish translations of Francis’ weekly catechism lesson rather than a cloaked monsignor, a small but revolutionary change for the Vatican.

The Vatican announced the change ahead of time, saying that starting Wednesday “men and women, religious and lay employees of several dicasteries of the Roman Curia, will be present at the General Audience for the reading of the greetings in various languages.”

During his nearly nine-year pontificate, Francis has often criticized the element of Catholic culture that puts priests on a pedestal and has advocated for the “people of God” to take their rightful place in the church.

He has called for women in particular to serve in governance roles and has appointed a handful of women religious to important jobs in the Vatican, though none heads a Vatican congregation. He is currently presiding over a two-year consultation of the Catholic laity around the globe to understand the needs and desires of ordinary faithful and how the church can better serve them.

With the novelty of non-priests reading the two translations Wednesday, Francis’ catechism lesson focused on the figure of Joseph, the “foster father” of Jesus.

With the novelty of non-priests reading the two translations Wednesday, Francis’ catechism lesson focused on the figure of Joseph, the “foster father” of Jesus. Francis repeated his call for couples to have more children to address the “demographic winter” in much of the West. And he called for couples who can’t have children to be open to adoption.

“This kind of choice is among the highest forms of love, and of fatherhood and motherhood,” he said. “How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them!”

He argued for the simplification of adoption procedures “so that the dream of so many children who need a family, and of so many spouses who wish to give themselves in love, can come true.”

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