The Vatican under Pope Francis I is conducting a worldwide consultation with Catholics on how to approach a range of social issues including homosexuality, contraception and divorce ahead of a 2014 Extraordinary General Session of the Synod of Bishops on the Family.
The extraordinary synod will discuss ‘pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,’ and will be only the third such synod since 1965 when synods were reinstated by Pope Paul VI.
The last was held by Pope John Paul II in 1981.
According to Canon Law, an ‘extraordinary general session’ of the synod is held to ‘deal with matters which require a speedy solution,’ suggesting Pope Francis may be seeking to move the church forward on social issues.
Among the issues to be discussed are ‘unions of persons of the same sex.’
The Vatican is seeking the views of ordinary Catholics and wrote to all national councils of bishops on 18 October telling them to begin seeking the views of their parishes.
Among the questions for parishes around same-sex couples are ‘Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?’
‘What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
‘What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of 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?’
The Catholic Church in England and Wales has set up an online survey for Catholics to use to take part in the consultation.
However in breaking the news of the consultation the US National Catholic Reporter raised concerns that the US National Conference of Bishops had not passed on the full language of the Vatican’s request to bishops.
Vatican's Synod of Bishops secretary general Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri wrote to national conferences telling them to distribute the poll questions ‘immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.’
However a letter accompanying the American version of the document written by the US bishops’ conference’s general secretary Monsignor Ronny Jenkins only asks for bishops to provide their views and doesn’t mention seeking the views of the people in their parishes.
A spokesperson for Jenkins said that it would be up to individual bishops how they gathered information to respond to the questions.
‘Rome asks for this kind of consultation on a regular basis,’ the spokesperson told the National Catholic Reporter following the publishing of their story.
‘We pass on to bishops what is sent to us. They then take care of the local consultation and send the data back to us. We transmit it to the Holy See. That is why the letter says the bishops will send back observations.’