The Vatican has warned Catholics not to expect rapid change in the Church’s stance on major social issues, whatever the results of a global survey it is carrying out.
Ahead of a special meeting of bishops next October, a questionnaire has been sent to dioceses around the world on the theme of the family.
It asks for the opinions of parish priests and parishioners on issues such as same-sex marriage, birth control and divorce.
At a news conference the meeting’s coordinator said the Church did not want to re-open the whole debate on Catholic doctrine.
“The synod does not make decisions based on the majority of public opinion. That is not how it works. But to ignore that there is a large part of public opinion that feels a certain way would be a mistake. We have to reflect, pray and (the pope) will shed light on it,” Archbishop Bruno Forte said.
The questionnaire asks about local church attitudes towards same-sex couples, and tackles once-taboo issues such as how to include the adopted children of gay couples in the Church.
The Church remains opposed to same-sex marriage but Pope Francis has called for more tolerance towards homosexual people.
“This idea of taking a risk is something certainly that has been encouraged by Pope Francis who has said ‘I don’t want a church that is closed in on itself but a church that is ‘accident prone’,’ that means it is alive, it is willing to go out to listen, to accept and to be in dialogue with the world,” said Robert Mickens, Rome correspondent for the Catholic newspaper The Tablet.
Popes traditionally use the findings of synods to write up their own assessments of given topics.
It will be for Pope Francis to decide what to do with the survey results and the synod’s debate.