Last month, the Vatican sent out a questionnaire to Catholic bishops around the world. They wanted to know what modern Catholics think about issues like abortion, contraception, sex outside marriage, divorce, single-parent families, and same-sex marriage. The survey is in anticipation of the “Synod of Bishops” planned for October 2014 with the lofty theme: “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation.”
A cover letter sent with the questionnaire from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, asked for the bishops to distribute the questionnaire “as widely as possible” to ensure input from “local sources, to guide Vatican officials as they develop the agenda for the Synod”. Bishops in many countries, like the UK and Belgium, interpreted “as widely as possible” to mean rank and file Catholics should actually be able to read and respond to the Vatican’s survey, so in addition to distributing it to their parishioners at Sunday mass, they posted it on line.
American bishops went another way, and instead of asking regular people their opinions, most have decided they will answer it themselves.
“We have a very short window in which to gather data” San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller told the San Antonio Express-News. (We could ) “never gather or collate that volume of data in such a short time. Plus, that’s not what Rome is expecting from the bishops.”
When asked to confirm that meant the surveys will not go to parishioners generally, a spokesman for the archbishop answered:
“Yes, that is correct. The archbishop will be distributing the Vatican’s questionnaire to the priests of the Presbyteral Council who represent the deaneries in the archdiocese, Pastoral Center Staff, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, a group gathered by the Office for Marriage, young adults, Catholic Charities, Family Life and Natural Family Planning, a group of parishes representing the diverse geographic and cultural communities in the archdiocese, and a number of settings & other consultative groups.”
A spokesman for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said that it will be distributing the survey to all priests and deacons and that it may include those involved in parish marriage ministries. Said said Victoria Laskowski, the diocese’s director of marriage and family ministries, who may or may not be asked for her opinion:
“It will be a big job to read and compile all the surveys in the short time allotted, but I feel that it will be worth it to share this information about marriage in central Pennsylvania with the larger Church.”
The Catholic Register is trying to give the American Bishops some cover. In an article entitled “Vatican Collecting Diocesan Data, Not Lay Opinions” they claim it is a “misconception” Pope Francis is interested in the views of the laity.
“Each bishop determines what is the most useful and reasonable manner of consultation to assist him in preparing his report for the Vatican.” said Don Clemmer, who is assistant director of media relations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
So, while “regular” Catholics in other parts of the globe are being solicited to contribute their opinions in advance of the Vatican’s Synod on social issues, American Catholics will not be asked for theirs.
The Vatican may have instructed the bishops to circulate the questionnaire as “widely as possible” but in America, the bishops have decided it is only possible to send the questionnaire to clergy and a few hand-picked lay leaders. Other countries have decided they have the ability to review feedback from the survey, and include it in their report to the Vatican, but American bishops just can’t find the time.
So if you are a gay U.S. Catholic, looks like you can rest easy, you will not be asked to give an opinion on same-sex marriage. Your bishop will let the Vatican know what it is that you think.
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