The Vatican will convene an meeting of senior clerics this fall to re-examine church teachings on its most controversial issues: same-sex relations, divorce and contraception.
The gathering could herald a new approach by the church on the sensitive topics.
The run-up to the synod has been extraordinary in itself, a departure from usual practice that some say is a mark of the pope’s radical new leadership style, and a canny tactic to defuse dissent over potential reforms.
Within a few months of his election last year, Francis directed every diocese in the world to survey local attitudes on family and relationships and report back to the Vatican, a canvassing of a sort that few of the faithful can recall previously. The results are being tallied and synthesized behind the walls of the Vatican.
The exercise reflects Francis’ desire for less centralized and more responsive decision-making, mirroring his own self-described evolution from a rigid, authoritarian leader as a young man into one who consults and empathizes.
Taking the public temperature also brings tactical advantages. Nobody at the Vatican will be surprised to learn that vast numbers of Catholics disobey its ban on premarital sex and birth control, or that some are in gay partnerships.
The “extraordinary” synod in October is the first of a two-phase process.
Bishops will discuss the findings of the survey and air proposals to deal with them. They will then settle on new guidelines at an “ordinary” synod next year.
The two-step process should give prelates time to reflect and adjust to reforms proposed by Francis, according to author and Vatican expert John Thavis.