Catholics who divorce and remarry deserve better treatment from the church, Pope Francis told priests Wednesday, adding the couples should be treated with mercy and not as if they are excommunicated.
According to church teachings, Catholics who divorce and remarry are living in sin – because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church – and are not allowed to receive the Eucharist.
Francis' emphasis on mercy in church leadership has raised hope among many such Catholics that he might lift the ban on receiving communion, which the faithful consider to be necessary for full participation in the Catholic community.
While his comments on divorce didn't go that far, the pope did say the church must change its attitude toward those who feel shunned.
“How do we take care of those who, following the irreversible failing of their family bond, made a new union?” he said during his general audience Wednesday.
Francis said the church must find ways to offer a "real welcome" to Catholics who have found happiness in a second marriage after their first ones failed.
"These people have absolutely not been excommunicated ... and they should absolutely not be treated as if they had been," he said. “They always belong to the church.”
The subject of how the church treats divorced Catholics is expected to be a major issue during a meeting of world bishops at the Vatican in October.
Welcoming to children
The pope also urged priests to be welcoming to the children of such Catholics.
"They [the children] are the ones who suffer the most in these situations. How can we urge these parents to do everything to raise their children in the Christian life ... if we keep them at a distance from the life of the community as if they had been excommunicated?" he said.
Francis said the children often carry the "additional weight" of being made to feel like outcasts in local parishes because of their parents' failed first marriages.
"Unfortunately, the numbers of these children and young people are truly great," he said.
Material for this report came from AP and Reuters.