Pope Francis said the Catholic Church should not allow its bans on gay marriage, abortion and contraception to dominate its teachings, but must be a more welcoming Church where priests are understanding pastors and not cold, dogmatic bureaucrats.
In a dramatically blunt interview with Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit monthly, Francis did not hold out the prospect of any changes soon to such moral teachings but appeared to be trying to shift the Church's tone on them from condemnation to mercy.
Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and the first from Latin America, said the 1.2 billion member Church had "locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules".
The Church, he said, should see itself as "a field hospital after a battle" and try to heal the larger wounds of society and not be "obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."
The long interview took place over three sessions in August and was released on Thursday simultaneously in translations by Jesuit journals around the world.
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that," he said.
"But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," he said.
Speaking specifically of homosexuals, he said: "In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy." The pope also spoke about the role of women in the Church, saying their "deep questions must be addressed".
"We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the Church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church," he said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Ralph Boulton)