First, we heard that the Vatican was conducting a world-wide survey. In an effort to move away from a “Vatican-centric” approach and to involve local church leaders in decision-making, news reports claimed, the Vatican has invited Catholics around the world to participate in a survey which addresses sensitive issues such as contraception, divorce and same sex marriage.
Then, the phony surveys. Several versions cropped up, notably the four-question survey from dissident group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Then Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, clarified: No, the Pope wasn’t hoping for a response from everyone in the world, all in a period of two weeks’ time.
Even more important, I think, the Pope was not asking your advice before making a monumental decision; and he was not putting Church teaching up for a vote.
So what, exactly, is going on in Rome? Well, there is a document—and it was sent to bishops’ conferences throughout the world by the secretary general of the synod of bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, in preparation for the October 2014 Synod of Families. Archbishop Baldisseri asked the dioceses and archdioceses around the world to “share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received”. In announcing the synod, Archbishop Baldisseri added that there will be a second synod on the same topic in 2015.
Helen Osman, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained, “It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.”
This is only the third time an extraordinary synod has been convened since Pope Paul VI reinstituted synods in 1965, to explore specific subjects of concern to the world-wide Church.
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So anyway, I’ve got the list of questions, which fall into nine broad categories. The questions were first published in the UK, where officials pledged to forward the respondents’ answers to local dioceses around the world. The questions do, as first reported, cover the flashpoint areas of homosexuality, pre-marital sex, and divorced and separated couples; but there’s more, much more.
Only a person with advanced knowledge of the Catholic Church could adequately respond to all of these questions. Check them out, and see what I mean:
Question 1a: Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et Spes, Familiaris Consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?
Question 1b: In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?
Question 1c: How widespread is the Church’s teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?
Question 1d: To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?
Question 2a: 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?
Question 2b: 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?
Question 2c: 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?
Question 2d: In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?
Question 3a: What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?
Question 3b: How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?
Question 3c: In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfil their vocation of transmitting the faith?
Question 3d: In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?
Question 3e: What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?
Question 3f: What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?
Question 4a: Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
Question 4b: Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
Question 4c: 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?
Question 4d: 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?
Question 4e: 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?
Question 4f: 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?
Question 4g: 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?
Question 5a: Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?
Question 5b: 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?
Question 5c: What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
Question 5d: 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?
Question 6a: What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
Question 6b: 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?
Question 6c: How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?
Question 6d: What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?
Question 7a: What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?
Question 7b: Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?
Question 7c: What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?
Question 7d: What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?
Question 7e: What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?
Question 7f: How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?
Question 8a: Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?
Question 8b: What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?
Question 8c: To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect family life?
Question 9: What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?