VATICAN CITY — Although preparations for the 2014 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will include an assessment of Catholics' attitudes toward relevant church teachings, the synod's work will be based on Catholic doctrine and not on current public opinion, officials said.
"Certainly the doctrine of the magisterium must be the basis of the common reasoning of the synod," said Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, at a Vatican news conference Nov. 5. "It is not a question of public opinion."
As the synod's relator, Cardinal Erdo will synthesize the remarks and recommendations of his fellow bishops in two speeches during the gathering, which Pope Francis has called for October 2014.
In October 2013, the synod's general secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, sent bishops' conferences around the world a preparatory document that included a 39-item questionnaire asking about the promotion and acceptance of Catholic teachings on marriage and the family, and cultural and social challenges to those teachings.
Among the topics of the questionnaire were divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, same-sex unions and contraception.
The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales put the questionnaire online in late October, on the SurveyMonkey site, leading to news stories about "polling" Catholics for their opinions and suggestions.
Asked at the Nov. 5 news conference whether that action was something other bishops' conferences should emulate, Archbishop Baldisseri said the "question answers itself" and was "not worth considering."
The archbishop said that pastors were expected to provide summaries of the views and experiences of parishioners, and that their findings would be "channeled" in turn through national bishops' conferences for ultimate consideration by the synod.
However, Archbishop Baldisseri said, individual Catholics are also welcome to communicate their views directly to the synod's offices at the Vatican, for consideration by his staff during preparation of the synod's working document, which should be published in May 2014.
Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, special secretary of the 2014 gathering, was asked if the consultation process might encourage a "rift" between Catholics who accept or reject controversial church teachings.
"Listening so openly naturally means running these risks," Archbishop Forte said. "What we know in the church is that there is an ultimate reference point, which is the discernment of Peter."
The synod will document any such disagreements as honestly as possible, he said, and "propose to the Holy Father the questions and possibilities that open up."