Cardinals from around the globe began discussing some of the most contentious issues in the church on Thursday following findings from Vatican-mandated surveys that many Catholics reject church teaching on contraception, divorce and homosexuality.
Pope Francis opened the two-day meeting by urging his cardinals to find “intelligent, courageous” ways to help families without delving into case-by-case options to get around Catholic doctrine. He said the church must find ways to help families with pastoral care that is “full of love.”
The sessions are aimed at starting discussions before a major meeting in October on family issues.
When he scheduled the October meeting, Francis took the unusual step of sending bishops a questionnaire for ordinary Catholics to say how they understand and practice church teaching on marriage, sex and other family issues.
Some U.S. and European bishops have reported their results, finding that core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce are rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of their flocks.
Many ordinary Catholics and even some bishops have called for the church — at the very least — to streamline its annulment process so divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has called for “changes and openings” in the treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics, delivered the keynote speech to the pope and cardinals on Thursday. The Vatican declined to release his text.
The cardinals are in Rome for Saturday’s ceremony to formally welcome the first batch of cardinals appointed by Francis.
One of the 19 new cardinals, Cardinal-elect Orlando Quevedo from the Philippines, said issues such as contraception and divorced and remarried Catholics weren’t major concerns for his church.
Asian bishops “would expect some kind of stability in the same line of doctrine that the church has had,” he said. “It does not mean that they do not want any change, but they want to see some kind of a pastoral approach, a very pastoral approach which would express the kindness of the church and the compassion of the church.”