Vatican Surveys Parishes on Gays, Divorce, Contraception
November 1st, 2013
In preparation for the Vatican Synod on “Pastoral Challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” called by Pope Francis for next October, the Vatican is asking bishops around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll asking Catholics their opinions on a number of church teachings, including same-sex marriage, contraception and divorce. The independent National Catholic Reporter has the details:
Among topics bishops’ conferences are asked in the Vatican document to question their Catholic populations about:
- How the church’s teaching on “the value of the family” is understood today. “In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?” the document asks. “If so, what are they?”
- Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks. “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?”
- How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
- Whether married couples have “openness” to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. “Is this moral teaching accepted?” it asks. “What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?”
The documents accompanying the survey reveal a tension within the Church. Since his election just seven months ago, Pope Francis has signaled a willingness to open the church up and change its approach to LGBT Catholics. And on the one hand, this unprecedented survey represents a huge change to the way the Vatican has traditionally done business. On the other hand, some of the documents deploy some of the more traditional cultural-warfare talking points:
Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: …relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.
Degrading rhetoric aside — wombs for hire? — the document does illustrate the crisis that the Church faces, particularly in the West and especially among young people:
Consequently, we can well understand the urgency with which the worldwide episcopate is called upon to gather cum et sub Petro to address these challenges. For example, by simply calling to mind the fact that, as a result of the current situation, many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments, then we understand just how urgent are the challenges to evangelization arising from the current situation, which can be seen in almost every part of the “global village”. Corresponding in a particular manner to this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine mercy and concern towards people who suffer on the periphery of societies, globally and in existential situations. Consequently, vast expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family.
It’s not clear exactly how widespread the questionnaire will be distributed. A letter accompanying the US version of the survey simply asks the bishops “to share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local source can be received.” The survey period ends December 31, with reports due to the Vatican by the end of January. A spokesperson for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops told NCR, “It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.” Meanwhile, NCR reports that Bishops in England and Wales have posted a survey online. That survey is in essay form rather than multiple choice, asking participants such questions as:
- 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?
- How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
- Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
- Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
- What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
- What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
- In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
- What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
- How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
- How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?
That last question can be a tricky one in the U.S., where there have been several cases of children being barred from Catholic schools because their same-sex parents have decided to live together as a couple or marry.