More than 200 Catholic bishops, priests and laypeople from around the world gathered in Rome this weekend to begin discussing Catholic teachings on a range of hot-button topics, from contraception and same-sex unions to polygamy and communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
The issues, which the Vatican places under the heading of “pastoral challenges of the family,” were chosen based on the results of a worldwide survey of Catholics in 2013.
Pope Francis called the meeting, known as a synod, to address modern issues facing families today – a topic that he has made a priority since the beginning of his pontificate.
The Catholic Church, the Pope has said, must make sure “it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people.”
In his short time as Pope, Francis has reached out to those who previously might have felt shunned by the church because of their family circumstances.
He has married couples who were already living together, baptized children of unmarried couples and reportedly called a woman in Argentina who is married to a divorced man and told her she could receive communion.
On this last point, communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, a debate has been raging since February when Francis asked a progressive German cardinal, Walter Kasper, to address fellow cardinals on the topic.
The current teaching is that Catholics who are divorced may receive communion, while Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried may not, because the church considers them to be committing adultery with their second partner.
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Pope Francis is in Brazil this morning for his first time back in South America since being named the leader of the world's Catholics.
But it's not a trip without controversy.
A small explosive device was found this weekend near a shrine the pontiff will visit later this week. He's also facing growing discontent there within the Catholic Church.
Yet Pope Francis got off to a low key start on his biggest trip yet. He rode from the airport in a silver hatchback, sending the unmistakable message that this is a different pope.
“He drove with the windows down,” CNN’s Miguel Marquez reports from Rio de Janiero “When it came to a stop he was swarmed by pilgrims.”
But many were waiting for the pope’s first public appearance. He took a quick spin around downtown Rio and tens of thousands of followers cheered him on.
There were some protests however.
Gabriel Paulo of the Unified Socialist Party says, "We don't believe our government should spend public money our money in covering the events and security of the pope."
“"Protesters even tear gassed at Rio's government palace," Marquez says. “But excitement over this pope's visit hard to overcome,” Marquez says. “A good start for a man on a mission to reinvigorate the church.”
CNN's Jim Bitterman reports on Pope Francis's plans for marking Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Pope Francis talks about the importance of protection during his official inaugural Mass.
CNN's Ben Wedeman looks at how the personable character of Pope Francis is energizing Catholics around the world.
Live in the Vatican this morning, the Full College of Cardinals has an audience with Pope Francis. The newly appointed pontiff meets with all of the cardinals who elected him and those over the age of 80 who did not partake in conclave. Senior European Correspondent Jim Bittermann is following the papal developments from Rome.
A new era for the Catholic Church dawned this week as Pope Francis began his first day as Holy Father on Thursday. This morning, Pope Francis meets with the College of Cardinals, the group elected him, and those cardinals over the age of 80 who were not involved in conclave.
Many have speculated the direction in which the new pope may lead the church, and his first mass yesterday gave some clues. In his homily, Pope Francis hinted at the church's struggles and delivered a strong message to the cardinals: Reject worldliness, be true to the gospel message, and rebuild the church on a strong foundation...or it will come down like "sandcastles on the beach."
Father Thomas Rosica is the Vatican's Deputy Spokesperson. He knows Pope Francis personally and shares his insight on the Holy Father’s first days in office. Father Rosica says Pope Francis is just continuing to perform as he did as Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina. “He was a pastor there, very close to the people. And he's continued that,” Father Rosica says. “He's simply changed the color of his robes right now."
Father Rosica also shares what kind of leadership to expect from Pope Francis and why the cardinals chose him. He says Pope Francis’s papacy is “about taking the gospel to the people” and the cardinals believe he has the ability to do that. “They chose someone who has an extraordinary record for compassion, for relating to people not just those within the Catholic Church, those who are good Catholics,” Father Rosica says, “but especially those on the fringes, the poor, the destitute, the disenfranchised, those living in irregular relationships, those who have suffered, those who have brought suffering upon themselves.”
Father Rosica also addresses the controversies facing the church which many expect Pope Francis to reform. Father Rosica says the papacy is beyond that and not about widening the church or addressing the particular agendas of different countries. “The pope is elected because he's the pastor of a world church."
As Pope Francis takes his place as the leader of the church, he faces a growing sex abuse scandal that has plagued the church in recent years. It’s a problem he inherits and one many are hoping he will address more aggressively than his predecessors.
Anne Barrett Doyle offers more on this view live from Rome. She's the Co-Director of BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog group that serves as the largest library of documented sexual abuse within the church.
Doyle explains her hope in the future of the church now, as well as her doubts about Pope Francis reforming the issue of sexual abuse within the church. “My first concern was that the cardinals chose not to make a statement that clergy sexual abuse would be the next pope's priority,” she says. “They did not choose a cardinal who has dealt extensively with this issue."
Doyle says nothing in Bergoglio's past characterizes him as a "particularly promising leader on this issue,” but she is optimistic. A Catholic who was present in Saint Peter's Square when the white smoke came out, she says she feels profound hope. “We need someone who is gutsy and outspoken,” Doyle says. “Let's hope this particular cardinal, now Pope Francis, has a change and becomes the leader that we desperately need to resolve this issue.”
Today marks the first day of the papacy for Pope Francis, the first Latin American to be elected pope and the first to choose the name Francis. John Allen, CNN Senior Vatican Analyst, and Father Edward Beck, CNN Contributor, are live to Rome to explain what this means for the future of the church.
Allen believes there are three blocs within the cardinals. He believes one bloc wanted “a pope outside of the West,” a second who wanted a pope “who can speak for the aspirations of the world's poor,” and a group of cardinals who “wanted to shake things up in the Vatican.” “So you wrap all that up,” Allen says, “I don’t think it's that hard to figure out how he got to those magic 77 votes that represented two-thirds of this voting bloc.”
Father Edward Beck reflects on the humility of Pope Francis, who may now have to reconcile the humble life he has led so far in Argentina to the pomp and circumstance in Rome. "This is an amazing testimony," Father Beck says. "This is the man who supposedly gave up his palace where he was living, to live in a simple apartment because he wanted to be more of the common person."
Thousands of people were thrilled to see white smoke billow from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel yesterday. Then “the largest bell in the basilica signaled the election of a new pope,” Miguel Marquez reports.
The square quickly filled to capacity as the crowd gathered to witness the new pope greet the people. “Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, becomes Pope Francis,” he introduced himself to the world. “He asked the crowd to pray for his predecessor pope Benedict. Then in a dramatic and touching moment, he asked for silent prayer.”