The head of the Catholic Church has surprised the international community by launching a survey covering topics such as gay marriage and divorce, NBC News reports.
The questions are being sent to parishes across the globe in preparation for next year’s Synod of Bishops, to gauge the attitudes of Catholics towards issues previously deemed too controversial to debate.
The note sent to every nation’s Bishops’ Conference states that the ancient church and its members are grappling with “concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago.”
Same-sex unions, mixed marriages, single parent families and surrogate mothers are all mentioned in the list of areas of concern. The list also includes the below:
- “What pastoral attention can be given to people who live in these types of [same-sex] union?”
- “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
- “Do [the divorced and remarried] feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?”
- “In cases where non-practising Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with.”
Pope Francis has already received widespread praise, and criticism from conservatives, for his comments about gays, women, atheists and priestly celibacy.
“To my knowledge, it’s the first time in the history of the magisterium have genuinely attempted to consult the laity,” said Thomas Groome, a professor of theology at Boston College.
“At least he’s started the conversation. All of these things have been closed issues and you could be fired for even talking about them. Raising these questions and polling people — it at least signals something other than a closed mind.”
Nothing in the questionnaire says that the church is planning any big changes. A senior Vatican official was reported saying that the church remains “loyal to the vision of the family where a man and a woman join together and procreate children.”