Roman Catholics are divided on issues such as divorce and birth control amid widespread resentment at Church teachings, two separate surveys have found.
In a rare attempt at openness, the Vatican sent out questionnaires to parishes worldwide in November, before a synod due to discuss the family this October. Results from several countries have now been released, showing that, in Switzerland, 90% of respondents called on the Church to lift its refusal to give communion to divorcees who remarry.
In Germany, bishops said the survey showed Catholics viewed the communion ban for divorcees as "unjustified discrimination and … merciless". German respondents also rejected Church bans on premarital and gay sex and birth control.
The Church-backed news service SIR reported that Swiss respondents were in "dramatic disagreement" with the Church's ban on contraception, while the Catholic Church in Luxembourg warned that results from the survey were "alarming" and showed the importance given to Church teaching was in "freefall".
The decision to carry out the survey reflects Pope Francis's promise to listen to Catholics' concerns, but there are fears that such openness could open a Pandora's box of dissent.
The second, private poll of 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries showed that 78% backed contraception, rising to more than 90% in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Spain and France. The private poll, carried out for Univision, a Spanish-language TV station in the US, found that 50% said priests should be able to marry, 51% favour female priests, and 65% said abortions should be allowed - 8% in all cases, and 57% in some cases, including when a mother's life is at risk.
However, the Pope has said he has little intention of altering Vatican rules, despite complaining in September that the Catholic Church has been "obsessed" with issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception.
Announcing the Vatican's 39-question survey last year, the coordinator of the synod, Cardinal Peter Erdo said: "We don't have a desire to reopen all the discussion on Catholic doctrine."
But Archbishop Bruno Forte, the synod's Italian secretary-general, added that if respondents were unanimous "we will have to reflect, pray and [the Pope] will shed light on it".
On one front - divorced worshippers - the Pope has appeared open to change, telling Polish bishops on Friday that priests "are called to ask themselves how to help [divorced couples], so that they don't feel excluded from the mercy of God".
Priests, he added, must work out "how to help [divorced and separated couples] not abandon their faith and raise their children in the fullness of the Christian experience".
Following moves last year by German bishops to break ranks and give communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reiterated the Holy See's firm opposition to the move.
On the issue of homosexuality, the Pope drew widespread praise last year when he claimed: "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?"
However the Church firmly rules out approval for same-sex marriage and it appears to have the support of Catholics, with 66% voicing their disapproval in the Univision poll.