Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster asked Catholics to recognize the "real goodness" in the lives of many cohabiting couples and those who have divorced and civilly remarried.
He said the two-week Synod of Bishops on the family, which concluded Oct. 19 at the Vatican, called the faithful "to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations" and to "see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives."
"This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages," Nichols wrote in a pastoral letter read in churches of the Westminster archdiocese at weekend Masses.
"These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness," he wrote. "This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call."
He also called upon Catholics not only to treat "people of a same-sex attraction" with respect but to also accept them "with compassion and sensitivity."
Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, added that there was "no suggestion that the teaching of the church might somehow give approval to the notion of 'same-sex marriage' or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change."
Instead, the work of the synod focused on "the desire to strengthen and reinvigorate the pastoral practice of the church," he said.
His sentiments echoed comments he made Oct. 21 at a London press conference where he said he felt that the final synod document failed to adequately welcome homosexuals and people in "irregular" unions.
"I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person and we keep recognizing and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person whatever their sexuality, whether they are cohabiting or in a second marriage," he told journalists. "Their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the Holy Spirit."