October 8, 2014 — Pope Francis on Monday encouraged bishops, cardinals and priests gathered for a two-week meeting on the relationship between the church and the family to engage in a vigorous debate about contraception and other issues, AP/Fox News reports.
To help inform the debate on such issues, Francis last year sent a 39-point questionnaire to Catholic bishops' conferences around the globe, looking for input from lay Catholics and clergy (AP/Fox News, 10/6).
Its intention was to gain a better sense of how people understand and adhere to the church's teachings on contraception, divorce, sexuality and marriage.
The "vast majority" of respondents said the Vatican's moral evaluations on birth control methods are an "intrusion in the intimate life of the couple." In addition, many Catholics said they believe that the "concept of 'responsible parenthood'" means people should be given "the shared responsibility in conscience to choose the most appropriate method of birth control."
Many respondents also felt the church lacked the credibility to dictate their decisions. A report from the questionnaires read, "[T]he clergy sometimes feel so unsuited and ill-prepared to treat issues regarding sexuality, fertility and procreation that they often choose to remain silent" (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/30).
Details of Synod
The meeting, called a synod, will include 191 church dignitaries, in addition to about 60 experts and lay Catholics, according to the Los Angeles Times (Kington, Los Angeles Times, 10/5).
Addressing those gathered on Monday, Francis said, "You have to say what you feel the Lord tells you to say, without concerns of human respect and without fear." He also urged them to listen to their fellow participants "and welcome with an open heart what our brothers say."
Church reform groups have expressed optimism that the synod could lead to significant changes, particularly considering the pope's recent comments that the church needs to be more merciful and a "'field hospital' for wounded souls." However, conservative members of the Catholic Church have urged for the synod to not change doctrinal issues, but rather help to message the Church's stances to be better understood by lay Catholics (AP/Fox News, 10/6).
The synod will begin with a week of speeches, after which participants will hold private meetings on the issues involved before presenting the pope with a final document (Los Angeles Times, 10/5).
According to NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday," the synod is the first stage of the process and a forum for discussions, but no formal decisions will be made until a second assembly convenes in a year (Poggioli, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 10/5).