VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis on Thursday urged "mercy" for homosexuals, divorced people and women who have abortions, saying the Catholic Church had to show understanding for the real conditions of people's lives.
"We must find a new balance, otherwise the Church's whole moral edifice risks collapsing like a house of cards," he said in his first interview since taking over as the head of the Catholic Church.
The Argentine pope said the Church needed more than anything to be able to "heal wounds", as he called for greater sympathy and understanding over practices the Church opposes.
He stressed that the Church's official position had not changed, but said that it should "always keep in mind the individual".
"What the Church needs more than anything today is the capacity to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful," he told the Jesuit paper Civilta Cattolica.
He compared the Church to a field hospital after a battle, saying it was "pointless to ask a seriously wounded victim whether they have high cholesterol, or elevated blood-sugar levels.
"We must heal the wounds. Then we will be able to tackle the rest," he said. The first ever Jesuit pope has shown a strong reformist drive in his first few months in office.
On Monday, he called for "another way" of treating divorcees who remarry - a thorny issue since Catholics who wed a second time are currently not allowed to receive Holy Communion at mass.