By Alvise Armellini
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Wednesday opens a global summit of bishops on potentially momentous issues for the Roman Catholic Church, including the role of women and its attitude towards LGBT people.
The Oct 4-28 meeting, known as the synod, is likely to again expose deep divisions between progressives and conservatives within Francis' nearly 1.4 billion-member Church, a constant in the ten years of his papacy.
"It is our duty ... to resist steadfastly any attempts to change the teaching of the Church that may emerge from this Synodal Assembly," Father Gerald Murray, a commentator on U.S.-based conservative Catholic television network EWTN, said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday.
The meeting brings together 365 "members" with voting rights, including for the first time 54 women, as well as about 100 other participants such as observers and delegates from other Christian Churches.
Conservatives have assailed the concept of this synod, saying any discussions on doctrinal issues should come from the top and that lay people, who are not ordained ministers, should not have a say in those matters.
Discussions take place behind closed doors and have been preceded by a two-year canvassing exercise in which rank-and-file Catholics were asked to share their vision for the future of the Church.
A working document stemming from this process focuses on how the Church can be more welcoming towards women, migrants, clerical sex abuse survivors, divorcees and victims of climate change and social injustice.
To the chagrin of conservatives, it does not explicitly mention abortion, euthanasia, and the defence of the traditional family.
'GATES OF HELL'
The synod starts with a papal Mass in St Peter's Square. Discussions will run through this month and resume in October 2024. A papal document will follow, most likely in 2025, meaning changes in Church teaching, if any, would be a long way off.
On Monday, five conservative cardinals from Asia, Europe, Africa, the United States and Latin America said they asked Francis to reaffirm Church orthodoxy, sending him five formal questions known as "dubia."
Francis replied to the cardinals' questions, but they were not satisfied by his responses. In one, the pope hinted at the possibility of allowing priests to bless same-sex couples on a case-by-case basis.
One of the five, Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Rome-based American, said on Tuesday it was not a personal attack on the pope, but an attempt by Church pastors to defend their flock from "the poison of confusion, error and division."
Burke told the same conservative conference where Murray spoke that he was sure that, with sufficient prayer on the part of the faithful, the "gates of hell will not prevail against the Church," using a phrase from Jesus to his apostles in the Gospel.
(Reporting by Alvise Armellini in Vatican City; Editing by Matthew Lewis)