In an unsurprising move, Pope Francis last week issued a questionnaire of sorts to the world’s Catholics to find out what we think about issues related to the family. He wants to know what we think about contraception, same-sex unions, and communion for divorced and remarried couples.
The Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to distribute the survey “immediately and as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received,” according to a letter from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary of the Synod of Bishops. A copy of Baldisseri’s letter was obtained by National Catholic Reporter.
Many national bishops’ groups around the world already have their online web site up and running (e.g., www.surveymonkey.com/s/FamilySynod2014). This action by Pope Francis shows – once again – that he is not afraid of the People of God. The massive communications revolution means the Vatican can actually ask Catholics what they think (e.g., this is called sensum fidelium, the “sense of the faithful”).
As the pope said in a recent interview, this does not mean “populism” and the Catholic church is not “voting” on these issues. But it does mean returning balance to the prophetic leadership of the church, which requires intimate knowledge of the people of God and what their needs are.
One thing to note is that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to interpret the pope’s request differently from other conferences around the world. Instead of going directly to Catholics in the pews, the bishops decided their own opinion on these questions was sufficient. Then they backtracked and said they’d use the "usual process." As of yet, there is no questionnaire up on the USCCB web site. I’m waiting.
Here’s an excerpt from The Tablet:
In preparation for next year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which Pope Francis announced earlier this month, the Vatican has sent a questionnaire to the world’s bishops to disseminate among priests and people.
The responses to the questionnaire will be analysed as part of the preparation for the synod, to take place from 5 to 19 October 2014 on the theme “Pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
The questions, which were sent out by Italian Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, cover some of the most contentious issues in Church. The questionnaire asks what kinds of questions divorced and remarried couples ask about the sacraments and whether a simplification of the annulment process could help “solving the problems of the persons involved”.
It also quizzes local churches what pastoral attention can be given to people who are in same-sex partnerships and what can be done to help the adopted children of such unions to be formed in the faith.
Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? (available at store.sojo.net), is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners senior associate editor.
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