Vatican surveys flock on divorce, gay unions
MANILA, Philippines – In a rare move of reaching out to the grassroots, the Vatican has requested bishops to get the pulse of parishioners on contraception, gay unions, divorce, and other family issues.
The bishops will do this through a questionnaire that Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, sent in mid-October.
The survey is not expected to overturn Catholic doctrine, but instead will focus on pastoral care – a priority of the pontiff whom Vatican analyst John Allen calls the "Pope of Mercy." (READ: Pope to PH: Don't get tired of mercy.)
It will also help the Church prepare for a landmark meeting on the family from Oct 5 to 19, 2014.
The US-based National Catholic Reporter (NCR) posted Baldisseri's letter on its website Thursday, October 31.
The questions include the following:
"Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
"Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
"Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?
"How is God's mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried, and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?
"In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting faith?
“Is this moral teaching (on family planning) accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple's accepting this teaching?
"What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person's encounter with Christ?"
One of the bishops who got Baldisseri's letter was New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a letter to Dolan posted by the NCR, Baldisseri wrote last October 18: "I would be most grateful if your eminence would distribute the document to the dioceses, and ask them to share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received regarding the themes and responses to the questionnaire, as well as any helpful statistics, for the preparation of the Instrumentum laboris."
Dolan has forwarded the letter to American bishops.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has also acted on the request. It has, in fact, urged parishioners to "actively participate in the preparation for the Synod by visiting our questionnaire on SurveyMonkey."
Rappler is still trying to reach the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) as of posting time on Friday, November 1, a holiday.
'First time,' 'surprising'
The NCR said the poll "is the first time the Church's central hierarchy has asked for such input from grassroots Catholics since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council."
The Vatican defines the Synod of Bishops as an assembly of bishops that helps the Pope "in the governing of the universal Church by rendering their counsel."
In a commentary on America Magazine, popular Jesuit author James Martin on Thursday said the Vatican's move to poll Catholics "is surprising."
"While in the past bishops were encouraged to promote discussion in their dioceses in preparation for a synod, there were never any outright polls conducted, and certainly nothing on a worldwide basis," Martin wrote.
He added: "Second, needless to say, the questions are not going to ask, 'Should we overturn this Church teaching?' Nonetheless, the Vatican will surely get a better sense of how the teachings are being 'received,' to use a theological term, by the faithful."
Martin said the survey reminded him of violent reactions to getting the sensus fidelium, or "the sense of the faithful," over the years. He said "a few people would protest, 'But the Church is not a democracy! And we don't do polls!"
Martin said: "Finally, it's a sign, in case we needed to be reminded, that the Holy Spirit is at work in everybody. From the Pope, to the local bishop, to your pastor, to the sister teaching in your school, to the director of religious education at your parish, to the mother of 3, to the man who holds out the collection basket on Sundays, to the college student struggling with her faith, to the fellow who cleans the church bathrooms, to the Catholic baptized just last Easter."
"The Holy Spirit is at work in her church and in her people," the priest added. "And she will let her voice be heard, this time through these polls, because she desires to speak."
It is also in line with Francis' vow to revamp the "Vatican-centric" central government of the Catholic Church. (READ: Pope to return 'Vatican-centric' Church to people.)
The Pope said, "The Church is or should go back to being a community of God's people, and priests, pastors, and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God." – Rappler.com