VATICAN CITY — The Vatican set the stage Tuesday for Pope Francis' next church meeting on the family, urging bishops to be guided not just by doctrine but by Francis' message of mercy and the "turning point" of the first meeting that sought to provide better pastoral care for gays and divorcees.
The Vatican sent a new questionnaire to bishops' conferences around the world seeking input on a host of family issues from a broad swath of Catholics, including ordinary churchgoers. Their responses will help form the basis of debate for October's meeting of top churchmen who will make final recommendations to Francis about how the Catholic Church can better tend to its families.
Among other things, the questionnaire asked how the church can care for families with gay children and discern "positive and negative elements" in heterosexual civil unions.
It also asked how the church can better provide sacraments for Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the church. Church teaching holds that without an annulment, or a church decree that the first marriage was null, such Catholics are living in sin and are thus ineligible to receive communion.
Francis has sought to end what he calls "de facto excommunication" for these Catholics, and the issue was a source of heated debate during the first family synod last October.
The new questionnaire urges bishops to "let yourselves be guided by the pastoral turning point that the extraordinary synod began to sketch out." It urged bishops not to turn in responses that were purely doctrinal in nature or ones that "start from zero" by ignoring what emerged from the first synod.
That meeting was marked by deep divisions over how to welcome gays and Catholics not living in sacramental marriages while also insisting on church teaching.
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