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Can They Say That at the Vatican? Pope Francis Promotes Sex Talk

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Surprising details are emerging about exactly what is being said behind closed doors at the Vatican, where Pope Francis has gathered 191 cardinals and bishops to review the Church's policies on marriage and the family.

The high-level meeting, called a synod, which means a "walk together" in Greek, has already broken with Vatican tradition in a number of ways.

For the first time, synod discussions are not in Latin, lay couples have been invited to speak and, perhaps most stunning of all, is the degree to which topics considered sensitive for the Church, including the value of sex, are being talked about.

For example, Cardinal Vincent Nichols told reporters, one of the couples in the meeting has told the Synod Fathers, in "intimate" details, the importance of sexuality to the well-being of their marriage.

After a brief pause Cardinal Nichols added, with a raised eyebrow, "That's not what we bishops talk about normally."

Pope Francis has encouraged the fathers to speak their minds and, in less than two days, 70 have been counted as having done so.

Father Manuel Dorantes, of Chicago, reported that one Synod Father said priests have so often condemned sexuality outside of marriage, that sex within marriage "almost seems an imperfection that is permitted."

Father Dorantes added that some speakers said this negativity should be changed because, they said, "sex is the sacred path among married people," in that it promotes holiness and allows couples to be, "with God, co-creators of life."

Asked if this positive view of sex has ever been so openly discussed at such a high level of the Catholic Church Fathers, Father Dorantes shook his head saying, "This is completely new."

Father Thomas Rosica, the CEO of the Catholic Salt+Light television network, is able to be inside the synod to observe every day and reports that while no one is suggesting a change in church doctrine, some are suggesting changing the language the church uses. That, Father Rosica said, would include language such as "living in sin," which he said has been described in the meetings as "not helpful" in drawing people to the Catholic Church.

Drawing people is seen as important by the Church, which has concluded families are one of the best conduits for spreading the faith. Even before the synod began, a group of five influential cardinals strongly defended the current doctrine and opposed any changes.

The synod discussions, which end a week from Friday, are also expected to address divorce, single-sex couples and cohabitation, but recommendations are not expected until after a bigger assembly of bishops next year.

Still, the frankness encouraged by Pope Francis appears to already be generating a more open dialogue. Cardinal Vincent Nichols went so far as to say, "There is a very lovely spirit, a sense of fun and lightness," at the discussions, as the cardinals and bishops speak openly about their own experiences as priests working with couples and also growing up in their own families.

The question remains, will the openness described in these high-level discussions at the Vatican lead to any changes that will address the pastoral needs of 21st century Catholics? If they do, they will make history.

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