'Red Cleric' defends migrants, gay rights in pope chat

Former French bishop Jacques Gaillot poses for a picture after he was received by Pope Francis on September 1, 2015 at the Vatican (AFP Photo/Filippo Monteforte)

Vatican City (AFP) - Controversial French Bishop Jacques Gaillot, punished by the Church for his liberal views, defended the rights of homosexuals, divorced people and migrants during a personal visit with Pope Francis Tuesday.

Gaillot, who was demoted by pope John Paul II in 1995 for behaviour that earned him the nicknamed "Red Cleric", told AFP that the meeting with Francis -- a driver for greater openness in the Church -- had gone very well.

It was the pope himself who sought out Gaillot, a fellow defender of the poor and downtrodden, who had risen to the post of Bishop of Evreux in France before being removed to the extinct diocese of Partenia in the Algerian desert.

The meeting came just one month ahead of a highly anticipated global meeting on family life at the Vatican, which the Church's more liberal members hope will result in a softening of the centuries-old institution.

"I don't want to ask anything of you, I told the pope, but a whole people of the poor are happy that you are receiving me, and feel acknowledged too," Gaillot said.

"I spoke to him about... the sick, the divorced, gay people. These people are counting on you."

The 79-year-old said he had told the pope how he had recently blessed a divorced couple as well as a homosexual couple, saying "he listened, he is open to all those things. He said that to bless is to speak well of God to people."

Gaillot said he now devotes much of his time to helping and defending migrants and the pope, he said, told him "continue, what you do (for the downtrodden) is good".

Francis has been urging the Catholic Church to adopt a more compassionate approach to those considered to have sinned, such as divorced people who remarry or practising homosexuals.

On Tuesday he called on priests to pardon women who have abortions during the upcoming Jubilee year -- overruling hardline traditionalists within the Church in the process.

Gaillot, who courted controversy in the past by saying he was unable to judge women who had abortions or gay people -- a message echoed by Pope Francis in 2013 -- now largely uses the Internet to continue his defence of human rights.