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Pope Francis says Catholic churches should welcome children whose parents are divorced. Reuters

Pope Francis has said that divorced and remarried Catholics are still part of the Church and are not in fact excommunicated.

In his Wednesday general audience on 5 August after a one-month break, the Pope, said: "People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way."

"Though their unions are contrary to the sacrament of marriage, the church, as a mother, seeks the good and salvation of all her children," he said.

The Pope, in his speech, a series of talks he has been giving on the family, acknowledged that there was no easy way to resolve the conflict between divided families and the Roman Catholic Church's stance on divorce, the New York Times said.

CNN said that Catholics, who are divorced and remarried, while are not excommunicated from the Church, are barred from receiving communion.

"This is not a new indication. He is saying what the Gospel says. He did not mention the possibility of opening the confession or the communion to them."
- Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says while divorce itself does not constitute a moral offence, entering into a new union, even if it is recognised by civil law, "adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery."

The New York Times said his speech seemed like a signal to the bishops, cardinals and church leaders who will attend a special meeting on the family at the Vatican in October.

The Catholic Herald said bishops at the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family last October have been studying and debating the possibility of allowing some couples in some situations to be allowed to take communion.

For three weeks in October, church leaders will debate social issues like divorce, same-sex civil unions and single parents. At last year's meeting, the bishops called on the church to welcome gay people, divorced and unmarried couples.

In his speech, Pope Francis noted that children of divorced or remarried couples suffer the most and deserve particular care.

"How can we tell these parents to do everything possible to raise their children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a convinced and lived faith, if we keep them at a distance from the life of the community as if they were excommunicated," he said.

The New York Times said the pope told priests to be merciful and to encourage such families to participate in church life as much as possible.

"This is not a new indication," said Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert at the Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. "He is saying what the Gospel says. He is welcoming everybody. He did not mention the possibility of opening the confession or the communion to them."

Catholic Church not expected to change views on marriage

The Catholic Church however is not expected to change its views on fundamental issues like marriage, the newspaper said.

It noted that last week, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin reaffirmed the church doctrine and described marriage as "a lifelong covenant of love and fidelity between a man and woman" in a letter to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention in Philadelphia.

Cardinal Parolin has come out hard against same-sex marriages, calling the referendum to make same sex marriage legal in Ireland in May as "a defeat for humanity."

The New York Times said some analysts believe Pope Francis may try to push for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion again. Catholics who divorce after a church marriage but do not remarry can receive communion.