Pope Francis hosted some special guests for lunch on Thursday. According to the Vatican, the pontiff dined with 21 Syrian refugees who have relocated in Italy from a refugee camp in Greece—some of whom were given a ride on the pope’s private plane back in April.

It sounded like a pretty touching scene. Along with dining with the Syrian families, the pope exchanged gifts with the children: He brought them toys, and they made him drawings. Discuss

In an address to reporters this weekend, Pope Francis said that the Church must apologize for how it has treated some marginalized groups in society. He singled out the gay community in his statements, while also addressing the poor, children who have been forced into labor and women.

During the interview with reporters, the pope was asked if he thinks Christians should apologize for traditionally being "very negative" about the LGBT community, especially in light of the horrific tragedy in which 49 people were killed at an Orlando gay nightclub. He was asked if this type of attitude is partly to blame for feelings of hatred against the LGBT community.

The pope said,

I will repeat what the catechism of the Church says, that they should not be discriminated against, that they should be respected, accompanied pastorally.

He added,

I think that the Church not only should apologize ... to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by [being forced to] work. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons."

The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times—when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners!

Pope Francis thinks culture has a marriage problem. Responding to a question from an audience member at a conference, the pope addressed what was called a “crisis of marriage.” The leader of the Catholic church said that people today—particularly young people—don’t understand real biblical commitment.

We live in a culture of the provisional … It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say ‘yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know …

It’s a social issue, and how do we change this? I don’t know.

Though commenting on culture’s broad idea of commitment isn’t all that controversial, suggesting that the majority of Catholic marriages are invalid, has raised some eyebrows and caused a significant blowback among some leaders. Ross Douthat, a well-known Catholic writer for The New York Times called his statements “extraordinary, irresponsible and ridiculous.” The editor of the Catholic magazine First Things, Matthew Schmitz, said the pope was flatly "wrong and irresponsible” to call marriages “null.”

In a written transcript of the audio, the Vatican also reportedly changed the words “the great majority” to “some.” Discuss

Twelve Syrian refugees have a new home. This weekend, Pope Francis invited three Muslim families who fled ISIS and violence in Syria to live at the Vatican. The Pope even flew them to Italy on his private plane. According to the Vatican, each of the families had their homes destroyed in bombings during the country’s on-going civil war, and were living in a refugee community in Greece. In a statement, church officials said,

The Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children … All the members of the three families are Muslims …The Vatican will take responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families. The initial hospitality will be taken care of by the Community of Sant’Egidio.

The Catholic church leader recently visited a Greek island that has been home to thousands of refugees, who have made the dangerous journey through ISIS-controlled areas in the Middle East to find safety in Europe. There, he met with families, and encouraged them with a message of hope, assuring them that they are not alone. Discuss

On Friday afternoon, four gunmen disguised themselves as relatives of the local residents of a home for the elderly in Yemen, entered the facility, handcuffed 16 people and proceeded to execute them. Four of the victims were Catholic nuns who worked with the elderly residents of the home. The charity home was actually first established by Mother Teresa to care for the elderly in region. An Indian priest who was on staff was kidnapped by the gunmen following the shooting. Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, an Indian government official said it was the work of terrorists.

This weekend, Pope Francis not only spoke out against the violence, but also condemned the world media for ignoring the story of the 'modern-day martyrs':

They do not make the front pages of the newspapers, they do not make the news. They have given their blood for the Church. They are victims of the attack by those who killed them but also victims of indifference, of this globalization of indifference. They don't matter.

According to Reuters, many international humanitarian organizations are now telling staff to leave the country. Discuss

Pope Francis wants Catholic leaders to do everything they can to prevent death penalties from being enforced for at least one year. During an address this weekend, he said, “The commandment ‘do not kill’ holds absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty,” while adding:

I appeal to the conscience of those who govern so that international consensus is reached for the abolishment of the death penalty. And I propose to all those among them who are Catholic to make a courageous and exemplary gesture: may no execution sentence be carried out in this Holy Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis’ position on capital punishment itself isn’t all that surprising: He’s long been an advocate of holistic pro-life values, from defending the unborn and fighting human trafficking to promoting peace and even fighting climate change. But what stands out about his latest call for the abolishment of the death penalty isn’t just his plea for the moral or spiritual high ground. He implied that there are strong, practical arguments for ending the death penalty, saying, “In effect, modern societies have the possibility to efficiently repress crime without taking away definitely the possibility to redeem oneself from those who committed the crime.”

A look at the numbers shows that when it comes to employing other means to “efficiently repress crime,” he’s right. According to many studies, there's little to no evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent for preventing violent criminal behavior. As this piece from The Washington Post notes, even though “States have been executing fewer and fewer people over the past 15 years … rates of violent crime are still falling steadily.”

... Read More