By Steve Scherer
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican is asking bishops and parish priests around the world about local views on gay marriage, divorce and birth control ahead of a meeting of bishops next year to discuss Roman Catholic Church teachings related to the family.
While it is common practice to send out surveys ahead of such meetings, known as synods, the questionnaire demonstrates a greater sensibility to issues once considered taboo, like how to include the adopted children of gay couples in the Church.
It also shows Pope Francis is reaching out to local parishes and not relying solely on the Church hierarchy on how to implement Catholic teachings.
The questionnaire was sent to bishops on October 18, according to a letter from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the general secretary of the synod meeting, to Catholic bishops around the world.
The missive and survey questions were posted on the National Catholic Reporter's Web site on Thursday, and confirmed by the Holy See on Friday.
"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 between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children," reads an introduction to the survey.
The survey does not signal any shift in Church doctrine toward gay marriage or birth control, but it does offer more proof of Pope Francis's push to reach out to ordinary Catholics on issues pertaining to the contemporary family.
In an interview published in September, the pontiff said the Church must shake off an obsession with condemning abortion, contraception and homosexuality and become more merciful, or risk the collapse of its entire moral edifice "like a house of cards".
The questions show a concern for how better to prepare young people for marriage, the effectiveness of natural birth control methods, and on how to support the "journey of faith" of divorced and remarried people who are excluded from the sacraments.
However, less than two weeks ago the Vatican confirmed that Catholics who have remarried after divorce are barred from receiving communion.
The survey asks what "pastoral attention" can be given to those who have chosen a same-sex union, and "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?"
In England, bishops have posted the survey online so that anyone, including lay people and Catholic parents, can respond. (http://r.reuters.com/vyh44v)
The poll findings will be included in a working paper for an extraordinary meeting of the synod of bishops next October.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Philip Pullella; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)