Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Pope wants YOUR opinion. Yes, YOU!

Not exactly. 

I have no doubt that the Holy Father really does take the opportunity to listen actively and pastorally to all he meets, that much is obvious from everything I've seen about Pope Francis. But there has been widespread dis/misinformation and confusion concerning the recently announced Vatican survey on marriage and family life in preparation for the Bishops' Extraordinary General Assembly on "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization".

The New York Times, not known for getting anything right about the Catholic Church, reports:  
But Pope Francis, who has already shaken up the Vatican, is asking the world’s one billion Catholics for their opinions on a questionnaire covering social issues like same-sex marriage, cohabitation by unwed couples, contraception, and the place of divorced and remarried people in the church.
The Daily Mail announces "The Vatican sends questionnaire on gay sex and contraception to Catholics around the world".

One blogger for a Latin Mass Society tried to fill it out for himself, declaring it "The Worst Survey in the World".  He evidently went to some Survey Monkey on-line form, run by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales and linked to their website. I would guess that some mid level bureaucrat at CBEW thought it would be a good idea to just ask everyone to complete the form, not having gotten the memo about how the survey was to be implemented.

Some self ordained group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, is looking to make some coin off their own version of the survey. They have a website,, and are actually soliciting donations, under the apparent pretense that this has anything to do with what the Holy Father is undertaking. 

Thank you for taking time to respond to questions that Pope Francis has asked of the faithful in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in 2014. Each set of questions appears below. Take as much time as you need. None of the questions are compulsory.
We ask for your e-mail address so that we can keep you updated on the progress of our survey and the activities surrounding the 2014 synod. Once again, however, this information is not required.
Your responses will be forwarded to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and to the appropriate officials in the Vatican, including the Holy Father himself.
This survey not only has nothing to do with the Holy Father's initiative, Catholics in Alliance is misrepresenting the actual questions that are being asked. Compare the following, both the CIA question and that of the Synod of Bishops (I have tried to find at least some pertinence between what the Catholic in Alliance questions are asking relative to the real survey):
Catholics in Alliance questions: 
The Church and Family Life
How well is the Church's teaching on marriage and family life communicated in your parish community? How does your local Church support married couples in their journey, especially those who struggle with marital difficulties?
Synod of Bishops questions: 
2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
b) 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?
c) 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?
d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?
 Catholics in Alliance questions: 
Outreach to Divorced and Separated Persons
How does your parish community welcome divorced and separated persons? How are they included in the life of the parish? Are they given sufficient space to be full and active members of the Church?
Synod of Bishops questions: 
4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? 
b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available? 
c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes? 
d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments? 
e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments? 
f ) 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? 
g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? 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?
 Catholics in Alliance questions: 
Outreach to Same-Sex Couples and Gay Persons
How does your parish community welcome same-sex couples and gay persons? How are they included in the life of the parish? Are they given sufficient space to be full and active members of the Church?
Synod of Bishops questions: 
5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage? 
b) 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? 
c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union? 
d) 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?
Catholics in Alliance questions: 
Being A Church of Mercy and of Welcome
Pope Francis has declared his desire that the Church be a place of mercy and of welcome. As he and other bishops come together to discuss family life in 2014, what can the Church do to achieve this vision more fully? Please speak on the basis of personal experience.
Synod of Bishops questions: 
There is nothing obvious in the Synod of Bishops questionnaire that addresses this.

What the Church is asking

I would strongly recommend that everyone read carefully the prefatory remarks of the Preparatory Document that accompanies the survey questions. The Holy See is first addressing the numerous contemporary problems in modern society which conflict with the Church's teachings on marriage, family life, sexuality, and the development of just societies:
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: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste system; a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the reformulation of the very concept of the family; 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.
It is these precise concerns that frame the Church's efforts to better meet the pastoral needs of Catholics -- all sorts of surveys and opinion polls can be presented to indicate that the Church's teachings are widely being ignored by Catholics: contraception, divorce, in vitro fertilization, even abortion and euthanasia, same sex unions, and the like.

Rather than asking for everyone's opinion about what they think the Church should do about these (with the apparent presumption that the Church should change her teachings to conform to the spirit of the age), the Holy See is first taking the opportunity to restate and affirm eloquently the constant teachings on these matters; "The Church and the Gospel on the Family", "The Plan of God, Creator and Redeemer", "The Church's Teaching on the Family", all of which reiterate the Church's teachings and give context to the questions that are then asked.

So don't expect the Pope to ask you directly what you think about these things, it is an opportunity for us all to revisit the Church's teachings that we might be better formed as Catholics.

But given Pope Francis' unpredictable style, don't be too surprised if the phone rings either...

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