Speaking out on one of the most contentious issues of his papacy, Pope Francis today (August 5, 2015) issued a powerful call to the church to embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, telling a gathering at the Vatican that such couples "are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way," the Religion News website reports.
"They always belong to the church," he added, calling on pastors to welcome Catholics who have remarried without an annulment, even though such Catholics are currently barred from receiving the Eucharist, the central sacrament of the faith.
"The church is called to be always the open house of the Father... No closed doors! No closed doors!" Francis told the crowd at his weekly public audience, which resumed today after a month-long summer break.
Since he was elected in 2013, Francis has said that the church must be more merciful and open, and he has encouraged debate on changing pastoral practices to allow, for example, divorced and remarried Catholics to take Communion.