Divorced people who have remarried "are still part of the Church" and should not be treated as if they have been excommunicated or cast out, Pope Francis said Wednesday.
Speaking ahead of a highly anticipated global meeting on family life in October, he said "awareness that a brotherly and attentive welcome... is needed towards those who... have established a new relationship after the failure of a marriage, has greatly increased".
"In fact, these people are not excommunicated -- they are not excommunicated! And they absolutely must not be treated as such. The are still part of the Church," Francis said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
"No closed doors! Everyone can participate some way or another in the life of the Church," he said, in a clear call for Catholic bishops and priests to treat those in so-called "irregular situations" with greater compassion.
People who are excommunicated are expelled from the Church, unless they repent, and are considered to be condemned to Hell in the afterlife.
The issue of remarried divorcees is likely to be addressed during the upcoming synod -- a gathering of bishops -- on the family, which Francis hopes will help reconcile Catholic thinking with the realities of the lives of believers in the 21st century.
A first synod on the family last year saw riled conservative bishops mobilise to block the approval of language heralding an unprecedented opening on the treatment of divorced Catholics, who are currently not able to take communion.