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Pope Francis opens synod with focus on family

Pope Francis and senior bishops are in landmark talks over the next two weeks, with a focus on the family. They are expected to debate controverisal issues that include divorce, homosexuality and contraception.

Issues under debate include church bans on contraception

Pope Francis greets a cardinal at the end of a mass to mark the opening of the synod on the family in Saint Peter's Square. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

Pope Francis on Sunday called for a more creative, humble approach to family issues in the Catholic faithful.
 
Francis made the announcement during a mass in St. Peter's Basilica to open a two-week meeting of 200 cardinals and bishops from around the world.

The most contentious issues under debate include bans on contraception and on holy communion for divorced faithful who remarry.
 
Many of the 200 attending the synod know that much of their flock, while considering themselves Catholic, defy church teaching on family matters and have gone their own way on sexual and family issues like contraception, pre-marital sex and divorce.
 
Francis said the synod was intended "to better nurture and tend the Lord's vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this way the Lord is asking us to care for the family."

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who has been organizing the synod, said many lay Catholics were consulted in the preparation of the working document.

The document itself, though, acknowledged that the church had a credibility problem.

"Responses from almost every part of the world frequently refer to the sexual scandals within the church (pedophilia in particular) and in general, to a negative experience with the clergy and other persons," it said. "Sex scandals significantly weaken the church's moral credibility."

The document doesn't recommend changing church teaching on key hot-button issues like its opposition to gay marriage.

But citing Francis's frequent call for the church to be more merciful and less judgmental, it recommends new pastoral guidelines to confront the increasing reality of legal recognition for same-sex unions, stressing that gays must be treated with dignity, respect and spared discrimination.

"The episcopal conferences amply demonstrate that they are trying to find a balance between the church's teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude toward people living in such unions," it said. It distinguished between gays who are "discreet" in their lifestyle and those who actively, "often aggressively" call attention to their unions.

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