Pope Francis says Church should keep 'open door' for sinners

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis on Saturday said the Catholic Church should not be closed off to sinners like a "pastoral customs house", giving as an example baptisms for the children of unmarried mothers.

"We are often controllers of the faith instead of facilitators," the Pope said at a mass in the Vatican residence where he has stayed since being elected instead of moving into the papal home.

The 76-year-old Argentine Pontiff gave as an example a priest who turned down a baptism for a child born to a single mother, according to a summary of his homily at the closed-door ceremony provided by Vatican radio.

"This woman had the courage to continue her pregnancy and not send her child back to sender. And what does she find? A closed door!" he said.

"This is not zeal, this distance from God! When we are on this path with this attitude we are not helping people of God," he said.

Pope Francis pushed for priests and bishops to perform baptisms for children born out of wedlock when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

"Jesus instituted seven sacraments and with this kind of attitude we are setting up an eighth. The sacrament of the pastoral customs house!" he said.

Pope Francis was elected in March and has signalled greater openness than his predecessors. He has repeatedly called for the Catholic Church to be closer to ordinary people, including people of other faiths and people with no faith.

The Pope also on Saturday returned to the economic crisis - a constant theme in his addresses. Unemployment is "an oil slick in large parts of the West... that is extending the borders of poverty in a worrying manner", he said.

Speaking to delegates attending a conference on unemployment organised by a Catholic foundation, the Pope said the word "solidarity" should no longer be understood as "simple assistance to the poorest but a global rethink of the whole system".

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