Pope Francis has urged bishops to speak freely on issues such as contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce at a two-week meeting aimed at making the Catholic church's teaching on family matters relevant to today's Catholics, reports The Associated Press.
The synod marks the first time the Vatican is addressing homosexuality on a pastoral level. Earlier this year, Francis suggested that the church may be open to the idea of supporting same-sex civil unions.
In a bid to encourage honest debate, the Vatican is restricting public information about what is said at the meeting and will not be releasing texts of individual bishops as it has done in the past.
In order to inform the debate, Francis last year sent a questionnaire to bishops’ conferences around the world which confirmed that while most Catholics believe in the indissolubility of marriage, the vast majority ignore and reject church teaching on sex and contraception. The responses also suggested that the church needs to develop a pastoral plan to minister to gay people in civil unions and to children being raised in such families.
At the start of the meeting today, Francis told bishops “you have to say what you feel the Lord tells you to say, without concerns of human respect and without fear.”
Church reform groups have said the pope’s insistence on open debate are reason for hope. However, Conservative churchmen are hoping that the synod will simply reaffirm church doctrine and make it more known and understood by Catholics.
Watch a BBC report on the opening of the synod, AFTER THE JUMP...