Pope Francis changes remarriage rules! (For heads of state)

Pope Francis waves as he leaves after leading his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on March 2, 2016. (Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

There is intense anticipation in the Catholic Church -- and no small amount of anxiety for traditionalists -- over what Pope Francis will say about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics in a key document expected in the coming weeks.

But Francis has already made an intriguing change in this area, albeit one that only concerns the Vatican's arcane diplomatic protocol and a very, very select group: Catholic heads of state.

As longtime Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli reports, the pontiff has altered the long-standing Vatican custom that if a Catholic president or prime minister (or dictator) who is divorced and remarried without an annulment visits the pope with his or her spouse, the pope will meet with the head of state first and then later greet the spouse -- who is usually waiting ensconced in an anteroom.

"From now on," Tornielli writes, "Catholic heads of state in irregular marital unions will be able to meet the pope along with their spouse and the latter will also be able to appear in official group photos when gifts are exchanged."

Tornielli said Francis asked for the change -- first reported by Argentine journalist Elisabetta Pique -- two years ago when an unnamed Latin American head of state who had married his wife in a civil ceremony met the pope, who then greeted the wife in a separate location.

The new protocol was used for the first time Feb. 27 for another Latin American head of state, the new president of Francis' native Argentina, Mauricio Macri, and his third wife, Juliana Awada.

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