Pope Francis urged priests on Wednesday to offer a “real welcome” to Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the church, Reuters reported.
Francis said the clergy must be more merciful and not treat Catholics who found happiness in a second marriage as though they had been excommunicated, especially because of the potential impact on their children.
"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, according to Reuters.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that those who divorce and remarry cannot receive communion "as long as this situation persists." But the Catechism adds that "priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate".
This isn’t the first time Francis has spoken in favor of greater flexibility with regards to interpretation of the Christian doctrine.
The pope has been vocal about his politics in many areas, including capitalism. Vox noted his critique against the “cult of money,” which he described as a financial “imbalance” resulting from “the absolute autonomy of markets.”
Francis has also been outspoken about protecting the environment. In June, Francis said a “revolution” was needed to combat climate change – a fate he said was caused by humanity’s “reckless” behavior, CNN reported. He condemned an addiction to fossil fuels and acknowledged the dangers of global warming.
The Washington Post noted the pope’s observation that Christians have misinterpreted scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
In other matters, however, Francis doesn’t veer far from a traditional interpretation of scripture. "Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion," he said, according to National Journal, in an encyclical – a powerful Vatican statement – in June.
"How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?”
The pope's views on homosexuality are also complicated: Francis advocates a traditional interpretation of marriage, but denounces persecution of gays and lesbians.
Vox notes: Before his papacy, while in Argentina, Francis called gay marriage “a destructive attack on God’s plan” but he said in a July 2013 interview, “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them.”
In another recent interview he affirmed “marriage is between a man and a woman” but also acknowledged the need for secular states to “regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring healthcare,” according to Vox.
Liberals and activists are split on his initiatives to remedy the historic and systemic sex abuse that has plagued churches: Catholic clergy sexually abused thousands of minors between 1950 and 2002, according to a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and many high-ranking officials were aware but did not take effective action.
In June, Francis created a new Vatican Tribunal to hear cases of bishops accused of failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests, Newsday reported.
According to Newsday, many advocates for sex-abuse victims hailed the move but others said it didn’t do enough and urged the Vatican to turn over any evidence of wrongdoing to prosecutors and law enforcement.