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Francis discusses divorce and remarriage in first book-length interview

Pope Francis greets veteran Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli en route to Brazil in 2013 (CNS)

Pope Francis has discussed his thinking on the divorced and remarried, gay people and the importance of mercy in his first book-length interview of his papacy.

In the book, The Name of God is Mercy, an extended conversation with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, the Pontiff addresses the subject of remarriage and divorce by discussing how his own niece married a divorced man who had no annulment in a civil ceremony.

The couple now have three children, the Pope says, explaining that her niece’s husband was “so religious” that he went to Mass every Sunday and accepted that he could never be absolved of his sins.

His niece has said she had to wait for four years for her husband’s annulment to be approved before they could marry in church.

Discussing gay people, Francis says they should not be “defined” by their sexuality.

“The Church condemns sin because it has to relay the truth: ‘this is a sin,’” he continues. “But at the same time, it embraces the sinner who recognises himself as such… it speaks to him of the infinite mercy of God.”

On the theme of mercy, Francis says it is the “most important message” of Christianity and “God’s identity card”.

He also urges Christians to “overcome prejudice and rigidity”.

The Pope says the Church “does not exist to condemn people” but to share a message about the “infinite mercy of God”.

“I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope,” he adds.

The publication of the book comes ahead of the Apostolic Exhortation on family synod, which is expected to be published in March and will offer the Pope’s reflections on marriage, divorce and family life.

In the new book, the Holy Father condemns corruption, pride and hypocrisy in the Church.

He even gives examples of clergy asking for bribes or asking intrusive and lurid sexual questions in the confessional.

The Pontiff acknowledges in the book that many people are turning away from organised religion towards other forms of spirituality.

He also discusses his affinity with prisoners, saying he has a “special relationship” with those in jail.

“Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine,” he says.