(CBS News) NEW YORK -- Pope Francis had a message for Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore Monday: he told them to make the Church more welcoming. Francis wants the bishops to find out what Americans think about issues including same-sex marriage, divorce and contraception. The Vatican has taken the unprecedented step of asking bishops to survey their dioceses.
Father James Martin is the editor of the Catholic magazine, America.
"I think it's definitely recognition that the teachings of the Church on these particular hot button topics are not being received as the Vatican would like them to be received," said Father Martin.
The 38-question survey asks, among other things, "What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments?" and "Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same sex and equating it in some way to marriage?"
Father Martin says the idea is to reconcile what's preached from the pulpit and the reality of life for people in the pews.
To those who say the Catholic Church is not a democracy, he responded, "[The] Catholic Church is not an autocracy either, and it's not a dictatorship, the Holy Spirit is at work through everybody. The great saints and martyrs were often not popes and bishops, they were lay people and they were people who were mothers and fathers and lawyers and doctors."
Pope Francis himself has said it is not necessary for the Church to focus only on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception.
Catholic teaching is clear on those issues. Under Church law, contraception is a sin, and divorced Catholics cannot be remarried in the Church.
That's of great interest to Sylvia. She's a devout Catholic who got divorced three years ago. She asked us not to use her last name.
She believes Rome is sending a message to people like her with this survey.
"We care about you, I think that's what they are saying, it's like, we care about you, and if you are hurting we want to help you," said Sylvia.
The bishops have until January to gather responses, which will be sent to the Vatican ahead of a meeting next Fall on Catholic family life. Clergy we spoke with cautioned this survey should not be seen as a sign that Church doctrine on those social issues will change.