By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican urged bishops on Tuesday to be guided by Pope Francis and the “turning point” of a recent meeting on family issues that sought to provide better pastoral care for gay and divorced Catholics and those living in civil unions.
The Vatican just sent a new questionnaire to bishops’ conferences around the world seeking input on a host of family issues. Their responses will help form the basis of debate for the next stage of Francis’ agenda: A big October 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 asked how the church can better provide sacraments for Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the church to avoid “unnecessary” impediments.
Church teaching holds that without an annulment, or a church decree that the first marriage was null, these Catholics are living in sin and 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 debate during the first family synod last October. More progressive bishops want an opening in current practice, while conservative ones don’t want to see any change.
The new questionnaire urges bishops to “let yourselves be guided by the pastoral turning point that the extraordinary synod began to sketch out, rooting itself in Vatican II and the magisterium of Pope Francis.”
The October 2014 synod was marked by deep divisions over how to welcome gays and Catholics not living in sacramental marriages while also insisting on church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage between man and woman.