Pope, opening Catholic gathering, tells bishops to speak frankly

Mon Oct 6, 2014 10:47am EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Monday opened a Roman Catholic assembly that will discuss marriage, gay couples, birth control and other moral issues, telling his bishops to speak frankly and not be afraid of upsetting him.

After a ceremonial opening on Sunday, some 200 bishops from around the world sat with the pope in a Vatican hall to begin the working sessions of the two-week synod, which is centered on the theme of the family and could help define Francis' papacy.

"One basic, general condition (for the synod) is this: speak clearly. Let no one say: 'I can't say that. What will people think of me?," he told the bishops.

He said the leaders of the 1.2 billion-member Church should not hold back their opinions on any topic, however delicate, "out of respect for the pope or because the pope might think otherwise." He added: "That is not good".

The meeting, preceded by public clashes between progressives and conservatives, is seen as a test case for the pontiff's vision of a Church he wants to be closer to the poor and suffering and not obsessed by issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception.

No immediate changes are expected to result from the synod, though it will prepare the way for a larger gathering of Catholic clerics next year, which will present the pope with suggestions that some Catholics hope could lead to changes in issues related to the family and sexual morality.

The synod is the first since Francis was elected 19 months ago with a mandate to turn around an institution hit by declining membership in many countries and scandals including the sexual abuse of children by priests.

The meetings are taking place behind closed doors and the Vatican does not plan to release texts or written summaries of individual interventions, or disclose who said what.   Continued...

Pope Francis looks on as he leads the synod of bishops in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican October 6, 2014.    REUTERS/Claudio Peri/Pool