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Pope set to open meetings on Vatican finances, family

Francis seeking Catholics’ views on core teachings

Pope Francis sent bishops a questionnaire for Catholics to fill out about views on church teaching on family issues.

CLAUDIO PERI/ASSOCIATED PRESS POOL

Pope Francis sent bishops a questionnaire for Catholics to fill out about views on church teaching on family issues.

VATICAN CITY — Meetings this week between Pope Francis and his cardinals will deal with some of the thorniest issues facing the church, including church finances and the rejection by most Catholics of some of its core teachings on premarital sex, contraception, gays, and divorce.

Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, who has called for ‘‘changes and openings’’ in the church’s treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics, will give the keynote speech Thursday to the pope and cardinals attending a preparatory meeting for an October summit on family issues.

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The cardinals are in town for Saturday’s ceremony to formally install 19 new ‘‘princes of the church,’’ the first batch named by Francis to join the group of churchmen who will elect his successor.

The ceremony is the high point of an intensive week of meetings presided over by Francis that include the first proposals to put the Vatican’s financial house in order.

Before Saturday’s consistory, cardinals will meet for two days behind closed doors to begin preparations for the October summit on family issues.

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Francis scheduled the summit last year and took the unusual step of sending bishops around the world a questionnaire for Catholics to fill out about how they understand and practice church teaching on marriage, sex, and other issues related to the family.

The results, at least those reported by bishops in Europe and the United States, have been eye-opening.

Bishops themselves reported that the church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce are rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.

‘‘On the matter of artificial contraception, the responses might be characterized by the saying, ‘That train left the station long ago,’ ’’ Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., recently wrote on his blog, summarizing his survey’s findings.

German and Swiss bishops released similar survey results this month. German bishops reported this: ‘‘The church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control . . . are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases.’’

Swiss bishops went further, saying the church’s very mission was being threatened by its insistence on such directives.

Kasper, who retired in 2010 after a decade as the Vatican’s chief ecumenical officer, has for years held out hope that the Vatican might accommodate remarried Catholics who are forbidden from participating fully in the church’s sacraments unless they are able to get an annulment.

‘‘What is possible with God — namely forgiveness — we should be able to succeed within the church, too,’’ he told Germany’s Die Zeit in December.

Church teaching holds that unless that first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often extremely difficult to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned.

Last year, the German diocese of Freiburg issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met — if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation — they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.

The Vatican’s chief doctrinal czar immediately shot down the initiative, insisting there is no way around the rule.

Cardinal-elect Gerhard Mueller, like Kasper a German theologian, cited documents from popes past and his own office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in rejecting arguments that mercy should prevail over church rules or that people should follow their own consciences to decide if their first marriage was valid or not.

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