The Pope may be considering lifting the ban on divorced and remarried people receiving Communion, reports The Times in The Australian.
At present, the many thousands of divorced Roman Catholics who remarry cannot receive the sacrament that is central to the practice of the faith.
However, Pope Francis has convened an "extraordinary synod" in October next year on the subject of the family, and on his flight back from World Youth Day in Brazil the Pope told journalists that it would explore a "somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage", which would include the question of allowing Catholics who were divorced and remarried to receive Communion.
One significant consequence of the doctrine was the Reformation: Henry VIII was not permitted to remain in communion with Rome after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
Christopher Gillibrand, the Catholic commentator, said: "Rather than excommunicating, the Church would have re-admitted a penitent, remarried Henry to Communion. History could have been very different."
In a pastoral letter the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Rev Philip Egan, said that in the Portsmouth Diocese in 1962 there were 1319 marriages but last year there were only 566.
He said he hoped that the synod would give renewed attention to Catholics in "irregular unions" or who were divorced and remarried. "Is there some way of affording them mercy, help and reconciliation?" he asked.
Many bishops' conferences around the world, including Scotland, have asked Rome to relax the rule in recent years. The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the Right Rev Kieran Conry, said: "The answer usually comes back that the present discipline remains."
He said he believed it possible that under Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic Church might move to a position similar to the Orthodox Church, in which a second marriage is not a bar to receiving communion.
RELATED COVERAGE act makes 11th-hour changes to same-sex marriage laws (Yahoo7)