In a clear break from tradition, Pope Francis is having surveys sent to parishes all over the world, asking churchgoers for their thoughts on previously avoided family topics.
The questionnaire has been sent to bishops around the world asking them for detailed information about the “many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care”.
The Pope wants answers from his flock on family issues that are common in 21st-century life — from gay marriage to divorce – in preparation for next year's synod of bishops, a grassroots effort that experts say is unprecedented.
“Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation… to same-sex unions,” it said.
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Referring to gay couples, one question in the survey asks: “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?”
“In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
The results will be collated and presented at a key meeting next October – an extraordinary synod of bishops which will discuss “the pastoral care of the person and the family"
Boston College theology professor Thomas Groome told NBC News, the survey was a positive step for the church.
"All of these things have been closed issues and you could be fired for even talking about them. Raising these questions and polling people — it at least signals something other than a closed mind," he said.
Pope Francis has signalled greater openness, and has said the Catholic Church is too tied up in "small-minded rules".
In an interview in September, he said the Church was too focused on preaching about abortion, gay people and contraception and needed to become more merciful.
Expanding on the explosive comments he made about homosexuality in July when he was returning to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, where he had celebrated World Youth Day, the Pope said he has no right to judge anyone from the LGBT community.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he said in the interview.
“I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
In July, he famously said “Who am I to judge” gay people.