VATICAN CITY - The Vatican admitted Thursday that most Catholics around the world reject its teachings about sex and contraception as an intrusion into their private lives, and are ignorant of other core doctrines about marriage, divorce and homosexuality.
The Vatican blamed its own priests for much of the problem, saying they simply aren't doing a good enough job to educate the faithful about essential church teachings and help families when they run into trouble.
The analysis was contained in a document released last week summarizing the results of a Vatican questionnaire sent to bishops' conferences last fall in preparation for a two-year study on family issues launched by Pope Francis.
Thousands of ordinary Catholics, clergy and academics responded, providing the Vatican with an unprecedented compilation of grass-roots data to guide the discussion, which opens in October.
The responses were brutally honest. "A vast majority" of them stressed that "the moral evaluation of the different methods of birth control is commonly perceived today as an intrusion in the intimate life of the couple and an encroachment on the autonomy of conscience," the document said.
Confronted with such a reality, Vatican officials were asked at a press conference if the church might actually change its position to align itself with the practice of most of its faithful.
Based on Francis' own wishes to deliberate for so long and canvass all Catholics for their input, "We will not close our eyes to anything," said Monsignor Bruno Forte, a meeting organizer. "These problems will be considered."
The document doesn't recommend changing church teaching on key hot-button issues like opposition to abortion or gay marriage.
But citing Francis' frequent call for the church to be more merciful and less judgmental, it recommends new pastoral guidelines to confront the increasing reality of legal recognition for same-sex unions, stressing that gays must be treated with dignity, respect and spared discrimination.
And it suggests ways to improve and expedite the church's cumbersome and expensive annulment process to enable Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive the sacraments.