Pope Francis Convenes Vatican Synod on Family and Sex

| Wed Apr. 30, 2014 9:09 AM EDT

Hmmm. Is Pope Francis about to convene Vatican III? Not quite, but we're getting something along similar lines later this year:

On Pope Francis' orders, the Vatican will convene an urgent meeting of senior clerics this fall to reexamine church teachings that touch the most intimate aspects of people's lives....The run-up to the synod has been extraordinary in itself, a departure from usual practice that some say is a mark of the pope's radical new leadership style, and a canny tactic to defuse dissent over potential reforms.

....Within a few months of his election last year, Francis directed every diocese in the world to survey local attitudes on family and relationships and report back to the Vatican, a canvassing of a sort that few of the faithful can recall previously....The exercise reflects Francis' desire for less centralized and more responsive decision-making, mirroring his own self-described evolution from a rigid, authoritarian leader as a young man into one who consults and empathizes.

....Taking the public temperature also brings tactical advantages. Nobody at the Vatican will be surprised to learn that vast numbers of Catholics disobey its ban on premarital sex and birth control, or that some are in gay partnerships. Setting down those realities irrefutably on paper, however, could strengthen a bid by Francis to soften the church's official line and put pressure on bishops inclined to resist, including some in the United States and many in Asia and Africa, conservative areas where the church has been growing.

The story is careful to say that no one expects any large doctrinal changes from this synod. Catholic teaching on gay marriage, divorce, women priests, and contraception will likely remain unchanged. Still, even baby steps would be welcome. Stay tuned.