Pope Francis has told bishops and cardinals from around the world to engage with the modern world and tackle real-life issues such as divorce, contraception and same sex unions, as the church address the gap between its own teaching and the problems faced by modern families. They will be joined by lay Catholics.
The synod will last two weeks but no immediate changes are expected.
The pontiff was opening a two-week global synod of nearly 200 Church leaders with a mass in St Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, when he said their mission was to avoid obscure theological debate and intellectual sparring in favour of analysing why so many Catholics defy official teaching on issues such as birth control and premarital sex.
Pope Francis said: “Synod assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent. Rather, it’s an opportunity to “work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity,” he said.
The bishops will for the next two weeks hold closed-door sessions of debate in which some of the most contentious contemporary issues facing the Church will be hammered out, including the divisive issue of whether to allow divorcees who remarry to be allowed to take Communion.
The Pope has said that he favours a more “merciful” approach on this topic.
Change is being pushed for by a group of reform-minded cardinals, including Lorenzo Baldisseri, the head of the synod of bishops, Dionigi Tettamanzi, the emeritus archbishop of Milan and Luis Tagle, a cardinal from the Philippines who had been tipped as the first Asian Pope after the resignation of Benedict XVI in February last year.
They are opposed by powerful conservative currents within the Church, led by cardinals such as Gerhard Mueller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, George Pell, an Australian who heads a Vatican economic committee and Raymond Leo Burke, an arch-conservative from the United States.
The Church leaders will discuss the results of a questionnaire sent out to dioceses around the world on the orders of Pope Francis, which showed that millions of Catholics around the world ignore the Church’s teachings on issues such as sex before marriage and birth control.
The synod will focus particularly on issues related to family life.
Last year, a global survey launched by Pope Francis suggested that the majority of Catholics rejected Church teaching on issues such as sex and contraception.
On Saturday, the Pontiff said he hoped Bishops would respond to the “epochal changes” that families were living through.