VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis has criticized those who care more about the letter of the law than people’s individual situations, continuing to assert the overarching theme of the landmark apostolic exhortation on the family he issued last week.

Speaking during his homily at Mass on Monday (April 11), Francis warned Catholics against such behavior by recalling the day’s scripture reading from the Acts of the Apostles in which Stephen is accused of blasphemy by religious leaders of the day.

“Their hearts, closed to God’s truth, clutch only at the truth of the Law, taking it by ‘the letter,’ and do not find outlets other than in lies, false witness and death,” Francis said, according to the report by Vatican Radio.

The pontiff criticized such an approach as being the wrong response to repentant people: “The heart is closed to God’s Word, it is closed to truth, and it is closed to God’s messenger who brings the prophecy so that God’s people may go forward.”

Francis cited witch hunts of past centuries and St. Joan of Arc, who was burnt at the stake in 15th-century France, as victims of such a merciless stance.

“History tells us of many people who were judged and killed, although they were innocent: judged according to the Word of God, against the Word of God,” he said.

The pope’s homily came days after he published his exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” in which he called for priests to take a more pastoral approach to people in “irregular” situations.

The book-length text included passages on how the Catholic Church should approach gay family members and remarried divorcees, among a host of other situations.

Key points from the document have been condensed into phrases published on the pope’s Twitter accounts in recent days, such as: “The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world.”