If the Church excluded sinners, it would pretty much be empty, Pope Francis told thousands of people gathered for his weekly general audience.
In the history of the Church, "some have been tempted to say that the Church is the Church only of the pure" and that others should be shunned, he said Oct. 2.
"This isn't true. This is a heresy."
The Church is holy because it belongs to God, has been saved by the blood of Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit, he said.
Anyone who knows Christian history knows there were times when the Church's members sinned seriously, he said.
Christians aren't pretending that isn't true when they recite the creed.
Rather, the creed affirms that "the Church is not holy because of our merits, but because God makes it holy."