The Vatican published a working document June 26 for the extraordinary Synod of Bishops to take place October 2014.

The 75-page document, called “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in Context of Evangelization” after the theme of the synod, is largely based on comments and answers in response to questionnaires sent out last November by national bishops’ conferences around the world.

The document addresses what are currently some of the most controversial moral issues the Church faces regarding the family, including artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, premarital sex and in vitro fertilization.

The “instrumentum laboris” is “supposed to ‘provide an initial reference point’ for discussion at the synod,” Catholic News Service reports.

According to CNS, “Bishops’ conferences responding to the questionnaire, attributed an increasing disregard of such teachings to a variety of influences, including ‘hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; (and) the growing secularism.’”

The bishops recognize the challenges of ministering to growing numbers of people in such "irregular" situations, including divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly without obtaining an annulment of their first marriage, leaving them ineligible to receive Communion.

Their predicament, which Pope Francis has said exemplifies a special need for mercy in the church today, has been a topic of unusually open debate at the highest levels of the church over the last year.

Many in such situations feel "frustrated and marginalized," the document states, noting proposals for rendering the annulment process simpler and quicker -- and warnings that such streamlining might obscure church doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage.

The document also notes proposals that the Catholic Church consider adopting Orthodox practice, which allows for second and even third marriages under certain circumstances.

On the other hand, some bishops and others "want to see more attention given to separated and divorced persons who have not remarried but have remained faithful to their nuptial vows," and who often "have the added suffering of not being given proper care by the church and thus overlooked.”
Read the rest of CNS’ coverage on the working document here.

Read the full text of the working document on the Vatican website here.