Pope Francis has denounced the “evil pastors” in the Catholic Church who “lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move.”

The pope made his comments in his homily at mass for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops which opens this week in Rome and is being attended by 191 cardinals, archbishops and bishops and well as lay persons.

Francis appeared to be criticizing those among the church's hierarchy who insist on hardline policies that many lay people could not follow, especially rules on divorced couples not receiving communion and the wide-spread use of contraception by Catholics despite church teachings.

Francis has put forward a more liberal view of such issues since becoming pope but has run into strong resistance from more conservative forces in the hierarchy.

He seemed to implicitly criticize such clergy for being overzealous and driving many faithful away.

“God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants,” Francis said. “We can ‘thwart’ God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.”

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin was in attendance as representative of the Irish Episcopal Conference.

In his homily, Pope Francis stated, “It is the farmers themselves who ruin the Lord’s plan: they fail to do their job but think only of their own.”

Ruth Gledhill of the Christian Today movement wrote that the pope's words were very significant.

“His words will be seen by some as criticisms of overzealous interpretation of aspects of Catholic doctrine.

“The Pope is attempting to focus on evangelization in a Church that is out of step with society on crucial issues such as contraception, marriage and divorce and homosexuality. Many Catholics simply ignore teaching on artificial contraception in particular, which is technically banned.”

She said allowing divorcees communion is a huge issue.

“The most pressing issue for many is the refusal to allow remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion if their previous marriage has not been annulled. This is regarded as cruel and unjust to people such as women who are devout Catholics, but who have been deserted and divorced by faithless husbands.”

The Pope said, "Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent. They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord's vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity."

The Synod continues this week.