HANNAH ROBERTS | MAILONLINE
Pope urges bishops to 'speak their minds' on gay unions, divorce and abortion at historic sex conference at the Vatican
- Meeting will review Catholic teaching on a number of controversial topics
- It will discuss the findings of a worldwide survey on sex and relationships
- Discussions beforehand have already caused serious splits among clergy
Pope Francis urged bishops to say 'speak their minds' today as a historic sex conference got underway at the Vatican.
The pope hailed the synod of bishops as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to review Catholic teaching on controversial topics such as abortion, contraception and gay unions.
The so-called Extraordinary Synod on the Family is discussing the results of a survey on relationships and sex sent to every diocese worldwide earlier this year.
Around 200 bishops will spend the next two weeks addressing the gulf between what the Church says about issues such as divorce and pre-marital sex, and what many followers actually do.
'You have to say what you feel the Lord tells you to say, without concerns of human respect and without fear,' Francis instructed the bishops at the start of their meeting.
At the same time, he urged the nearly 200 cardinals, bishops and priests gathered for the synod to listen to one another with humility 'and welcome with an open heart what our brothers say.'
The discussions beforehand have already caused bitter arguments among senior clergy.
Reformist cardinals have already proposed allowing the divorced and remarried to take Communion. This is currently banned as the church does not recognise divorce so remarried people are regarded as adulterers. But conservative bishops are totally opposed to this move, believing it is a threat to the institution of marriage.