Pope Benedict XVI has made an attempt to appease remarried Catholic divorcees by calling on parishes to integrate them, but he is a long way from changing the rules, Vatican watchers said Monday.
Amid increasing calls from reformist Catholic groups to change Church attitudes towards divorcees and allow them to take communion, the pope Sunday acknowledged there was an issue but refused to budge from the doctrine.
"The pope does not want to risk opening up on the principle that people living in sin cannot take Communion," said Vatican expert Bruno Bartoloni.
While "the Church's position could change in the future," the conservative pontiff is a stickler for doctrine and will not risk sparking calls for widespread reform by easing on some issues, he said.
From Austria and Germany to France and Brazil, there have been increasing demands for a rethink and some priests have broken the rules by allowing local church-going remarried divorcees to receive the Eucharist.
Germany's "We are Church" movement and Austria's "Priests' Initiative" -- which issued a "Call to Disobedience" last year -- are among those calling for everyone who approaches the altar in good faith to receive communion.
Top clergy members such as Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German bishops conference, have also called for "an intensive discussion" of the issue, saying that the Church cannot just turn a blind eye.
The pope told one million faithful gathered for mass at the World Meetings of Families this weekend that he was aware that remarried divorcees felt cast out and called on parishes to make an effort to include them.
Addressing "the faithful who, even though they agree with the Church's teachings on the family, have had painful experiences of breakdown and separation," he said, "the Pope and the Church support you in your struggle."
"I encourage you to remain united to your communities, and I earnestly hope that your dioceses are developing suitable initiatives to welcome and accompany you," he added, having earlier said their pain "is the whole community's pain."
Pippo Baudo, an Italian television presenter who told Corriere della Sera he was kicked out of church during his godson's baptism because he was a divorcee, said Benedict had been forced into extending an olive branch.
"Benedict's position is due to the current crisis in the Church, which has lost contact with the faithful," he said, while La Repubblica quoted Catholic watchers who warned that the Vatican should be careful of alienating believers when Church numbers were in steep decline.
The pope's comments, which were made in the context of a celebration of the family in the northern city of Milan, showed no inclination to rethink the ban on divorcees from receiving Holy Communion. He also made no reference to divorced people who have not remarried.
At a "witnesses' vigil" on Saturday evening, the pope heard tales about the growing number of remarried divorcees who are active church-goers worldwide.
"Failed marriages are on the rise in Brazil, just as they are in the rest of the world," Brazilian couple Manoel Angelo and Marta Araujo told Benedict.
"In many cases remarried couples wish to come back to the Church, but are refused the Sacraments. They feel branded by an irrevocable judgement."
"We have witnessed a desire to construct something lasting, particularly for the children born of the new union. This great pain wounds those involved deeply," Angelo said.
The pope replied by saying that remarried divorcees are "one of the Church's biggest afflictions" and "the Church loves them, but they need to see and feel that love. They are not 'outsiders' even if they cannot receive the Eucharist."