Vatican City: Pope Francis said on Monday that the Church was "not a museum" but a place for progress, as members of a key synod started three weeks of debate aimed at reshaping Catholic teaching on the family.
Francis urged a spirit of "solidarity, courage and humility" as the Catholic Church's conservative and liberal wings began tackling hot-button topics from communion for remarried divorcees to acceptance of homosexuality.
The 78-year old reminded an audience packed with red- hatted cardinals and purple-sashed bishops that the Church was "not a museum to keep or preserve.
"It's a place where the holy people of God move forward," he told an audience that included a baby whose parents were among 18 lay couples participating in the synod.
At a mass yesterday marking the opening of the synod, the pope offered encouragement to both camps, defending marriage and heterosexual couples but also insisting the Church must have "its doors open to welcome all those who knock".
In an apparent boost to those who would have priests take a more merciful and inclusive approach to homosexuals, he said the Church must not "point the finger in judgement" of others, because doing so would "betray its mission".
But he has also said traditional marriage between heterosexual couples should be defended.
"The emotional intensity of the synod is amped up because of perceptions that the pope's position is still a work in progress," Vatican watcher John Allen said.
"Whenever topics such as homosexuality and divorce are on the docket, feelings will run strong," he wrote for Cruxnow.
"What's new now is a sense, however exaggerated, that movement might actually be possible. That's elicited strong passions both from those who see such movement as desirable, and those who view it as alarming."
The synod is the second and final round of a review of Catholic teaching on the family.
During last year's first round, language that would have seen the Church recognise the value of loving same-sex relationships was excised from the final working document that forms the basis for the talks here.
But the document does include a landmark statement that homosexuals must be treated with respect and that "all types of unfair discrimination must be avoided."
The gathering of 360 participants was overshadowed this weekend by the bombshell announcement by a Polish priest, Krzystof Charamsa, an official at the Vatican, that he is a practising homosexual with a partner.