(RNS) In an unusual move, the Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to quickly canvas the faithful for their views on topics like gay marriage, divorce and birth control ahead of a major meeting of church leaders set for next fall.

Pope Francis carries his crosier after celebrating Mass in the piazza outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 4. The pontiff was making his first pilgrimage as pope to the birthplace of his papal namesake. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis carries his crosier after celebrating Mass in the piazza outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 4. The pontiff was making his first pilgrimage as pope to the birthplace of his papal namesake. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service


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But it’s not clear how or whether the American bishops will undertake such an effort, or if they will only send their own views to Rome.

The letter from the Vatican to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was dated Oct. 18 and it asked that a series of questions be shared “immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received” in time for a February planning meeting in Rome.

That meeting is to help set priorities for the October 2014 synod — as the meeting of top church leaders is called — on family life.

The letter was sent via email to the rest of the U.S. bishops on Wednesday (Oct. 30). National Catholic Reporter first reported the story on Thursday, and included copies of the documents.

An accompanying note to the bishops from Monsignor Ronny Jenkins, the chief administrator at the USCCB headquarters in Washington, says the Vatican “requests the observations of the members of the Conference” — the bishops — but does not mention the kind of broader consultation that the Vatican asks for.

The bishops in England and Wales, by contrast, already have an online survey form up and running and have asked every diocese, parish, Catholic organization, and individual Catholic for feedback. The British bishops also printed the nine sets of topics and 39 questions from the Vatican in a nationally circulated Catholic newspaper.

“Your participation is important,” Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the hierarchy in England and Wales, said in a message encouraging Catholics to respond.

In the U.S., on the other hand, “it will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome,” a spokeswoman for the USCCB said Friday.

“We pass on to bishops what is sent to us. They then take care of the local consultation and send the data back to us. We transmit it to the Holy See,” said Helen Osman, head of communications for the American hierarchy.

Still, some American bishops privately expressed frustration that they had not been notified sooner about the Vatican request and that there was as yet no national plan for soliciting input from U.S. Catholics.

In preparing for past synods, Rome has asked bishops to discuss the issues with their flocks and provide feedback. But bishops say it was largely a pro forma request often carried out in a perfunctory manner.

The synod meetings, which were begun years ago as a way to improve churchwide consultation, have turned into ponderous, unwieldy affairs that generally rubber-stamp pre-set conclusions. As blogger Rocco Palmo put it, for participating bishops “the greatest benefit of the experience has been a healthy amount of nap-time during the sessions.”

But Francis and his top aides have said that they want to overhaul the synod to turn it into a truly consultative meeting that will be shorter in duration — two weeks instead of nearly a month — and encourage debate and input from all Catholics.

Next October’s meeting will be the first major test for Francis’ pledge to develop a more “horizontal” church.

Just as notable are the questions the Vatican is asking: Rome wants to know how churches are reaching out to divorced and remarried couples, to cohabitating couples, and to gay couples and their children. The document also asks whether the church’s ban on artificial birth control is accepted and if not, why not.

The Vatican also has requested detailed statistics on the makeup of families in each diocese, including the percentage of couples who are divorced and remarried — a topic that Francis has spoken about in terms that have prompted widespread speculation about potential changes in church teachings or practices.

As the document says, “vast expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family.”

KRE/AMB END GIBSON

41 Comments

  1. Rudy sponge lolo

    The US bishops won’t rock the boat. They won’t poll the laity… Or at least anyone who has an opinion contrary to existing teachings. The showed their lack of courage in their acquiescence to the pathetically awkward language of the “new” Roman Missal. If they do solicit opinions, it will be from the conservatives… Opus Dei and the like. Out of touch, clericalism and careerist.

    • The Catholic Church holds to the indisolubility of marriage by referencing the Biblical injunction: “What God has joined together let no man put asunder.” The problem lies at the very heart of the injunction itself–namely, whether God has joined a particular couple. The “joining” is not proved by the couple’s having married before a Catholic cleric. The Church, incidentally, refuses to recognize any marriage not contracted before a duly authorized Catholic cleric but seems to maintain that the Church’s witnessing of vows is binding.

      Granted, there has been more approval of annullments in recent decades. Perhaps the Church itself is beginning to see that it is not so easily established that God has, indeed, joined a particular couple.

      • Born Catholic

        As I recall that injunction in the Gospel, what Jesus said was: “What God has joined together let no man put asunder EXCEPT FOR ADULTERY.”
        Many years ago, I had many a heated discussion with the teacher of my Christian Marriage class at a Catholic college, regarding the fact that the Church had lopped off the ending of this important sanction.
        Then, at the end of the school year, the priest was permitted by the Church to set aside his vows, leave the priesthood, and marry an ex-nun.
        True story. True story.
        Never say the Church cannot permit divorce and remarriage if has the power to set aside a priest’s vows of celibacy and permit him to leave the priesthood a “free” man.

    • cherrywoman22

      Ruben, am just commenting on one “couple of words” in your post smiles. They didn’t show any “lack of courage in their acquiescence to the “pathetically awkard language of the “new” Roman Missal. Wake up dear. That “language” has been used in Spain for aaaaaaaaaaaages. It’s only the “correct” translation. Give me a break!!!

    • I can’t beleive that the US Bishops won’t poll the Laity… Freedom of speech is such a huge value for Americans. I bet it would be just too much work to consolodate all the responses they would get. What can we do? Copy the UK questionaire in the NY and La Times and invite people to respond to their own Bishops?

    • For sure, birth control,.annulment and priests possible marriage should be on
      the agenda.
      If the church does not move on these items the loss of members will continue.

      In minnesota the pediophile scandal is arrising again and the Bishops are just trying to sweep it under the rug.

      We need more priests. Allow marriage of priests or allow Deacons to participate much more deeply in the church..

  2. There was big “expectations” when Pope Paul VI wrote Huanae Vitae as well. The reinforcing of Catholic teaching only angered those with expectations of liberal changes when it didn’t happen. This could (as I expect it will) end up the same way. Church teaching is not likely to change, the surveys are to see how bad the situation is, then teaching can be geared to the severity of the lack of proper adherence to the church. Otherwise Blessed John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church will need to be re-written or tossed aside.

    • Just finished reading the questions and as a traditional conservative Catholic I agree with your sentiments John…. I’m not at all disappointed or threatened by these questions. I believe Pope Francis just wants to bring more people into the Church and uphold the teachings of the Church at the same time…

  3. Paul Frantizek

    Considering how deeply divorce and single parent ‘families’ have damaged our society, I fail to see how being out of touch with the (rapidly going insolvent) modern secular world is a bad thing.

    • Born Catholic

      And yet there seems to be no terrible damage done when the Church sets asides a priest’s vows and permits him laicization and the “right” to marry despite the vow of celibacy he took before God.
      I think the Church has an obligation to grant the laity the same right to “change its mind” that it permits its clergy….
      I do not see society being served by forcing an abused woman and the mother of abused children to stay married to their abuser, nor do I see the damage done by permitting a woman to marry another man if her vowed husband abandons her and the[r children for another woman, or simply to “find himself.”
      When there comes a point that the culture wars are more about ideology than an individual’s welfare and salvation, then the Church must choose for the individual’s soul.

      • Paul Frantizek

        For every person helped by current mores regarding divorce there are ten (mostly children) who are permanently harmed.

        Read some of the stats regarding school performance, substance abuse, teen sex, STDs – every one of them shows a correlation with single parent families.

  4. In 1993, during World Youth Day in Denver, Pope John Paul II was quoted in the Denver register that if the church changed her doctrines and teachings on faith and morals, she would no longer be the bride of Christ. I agree with that. I don’t know why it is necessary to have a synod when the teachings of the church are plainly stated. If people do not believe in the teachings of the church, then they are not really Catholic. I don’t know why we have to keep rangling on these issues. If the church changes her teachings on basic matters, then I can no longer remain in that changed church. I cannot go against my conscience on matters of faith and morals or doctrine. I would have to follow the people who follow what has always been taught before. If the liberals take over, I am out. It is no longer the true church of Christ but a modern invention for anything goes.

      • The Gospel and The Church has been given to us through the Apostles and
        Holy men and women who were docile and obedient to the work of the Holy Spirit in their souls. It is said that the Church has been built on the blood of the Martyrs. Paul wrote many of his letters (epistles) to the new converts from a cold jail cell. Those letters warn the new Christians about
        the consequences of sin. Paul did not talk about being nice, inclusive, tolerant etc. He did say whatever causes you to sin, cut it off or in other words, Repent. The people of the new church did not get to have an opinion on what they thought about gay couples, birth control etc.

        • Born Catholic

          But the Church has always had a procedure in place that, within specified parameters, priests are permitted to set aside their vows, leave the priesthood, and marry.
          Why is a man — er, priest — permitted to do this when a woman — I mean, of course, the married laity — granted the same avenues in rectifying a well-intentioned choice that no longer supports the good of their soul?

          • Born Catholic

            Of course, in my previous post, I meant the marred laity do not have the same sort of procedure that laicized priests have in reclaiming their “right” to a new marriage.
            Why is one vow less rigid than another?

    • Consider the taking of interest on loans, limbo, the sun going around the earth, slavery, the use of ttitles such as excelllency which Jesus seemed to disdain, the use of bishop as burocrat when “episcopus” means one who oversees the congregation, cup becoming a “chaliice”, “and with your spirit” when the literal translation and word order really is “and with spirit thine”, the forbidding of the translation of the Mass being available to the faithful for years. Also condsider the change from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to the vernacular. Meditate.

  5. come visit United States Holy Father, speak about families, and poverty. just
    to have you visit the United Nations building ,while on U. S. soil would bring needed
    grace to our land.

  6. Although I treasure the freedom to vote in a democracy, I do not want a democratic Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is apostolic, traditional, with complete adherence to the teachings of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit. It isn’t up for the popular vote or the passing of fads and whims of rising and falling, changing and shifting opinions of societies. The teachings of Christ have endured and are timeless, regardless of 2000 years of changing opinions that have produced the greatest minds and martyrs in its defense.
    Yes, listen to the faithful, because the clergy can sometimes go wrong, but always stick with Christ and the truth and leave fickle, popular opinion polls to the secular powers.

    • Doctrines are not out for a popular vote. The church has already set up what we are to believe and these teachings cannot be changed or the church has lost its commission by Christ and becomes apostate. Then the underground church with faithful priests and bishops will have to continue the true faith until the church comes back to sanity. Not only can the clergy go wrong but many laity, too, because they would rather have a social club than a real church with the faith as it has been handed down. The only reason the church has existed this long is because it has combated heresy. When it gives in to liberal ideas, it loses the faith gradually but there is always a saintly bishop who rises up to save the true faith for the future. We shall see what happens.

  7. Liberal Catholics are generally fine with divorce, birth control and gay marriage. Lots are okay with abortion too, at least as far as leaving it up to the individual. Probably the majority of Catholics in the U.S. are liberal, although there is stil a small percentage who are not. I can’t imagine why the Vatican would need a survey to discover any of this, prior polls state as much. The percentage of Catholics adhering to Church doctrine continues to diminish as the older (born prior to WWII) generation dies out.

    There will always be some of us who will stick with church doctrine no matter what! (although I am neither a radtrad latin type nor an opus dei fan) You can’t let the current culture dictate your faith!

  8. We are first and foremost all children of God. Whether you are Catholic, Anglican, Gay, Lesbian,etc who are we to judge? as Pope Francis says The church has finally asked us for our opinion, which has been rare over past 2,000 years. I think it is about time that people have a say in changes that may need to be made. The Church is evolving which is a good thing. Why should we be so closed minded as to not accept change in the church as well as in the world? What they are trying to do is to “reach out” to those who have become discontent with over the scandals in the church and have left. Reality is that life today is not what it was 2,000 years ago when Jesus was alive. What would Jesus say to the church asking for the people’s opinion on change?

  9. I agree with Duane Lamers. My husband was married to a Protestant girl in a Catholic church when they were both 19. They had no instruction. They did not take their vows seriously, it lasted no more than 6 months as she was already seeing someone else and left him. He was from a broken home and the relatives who he lived with were glad to see the back of him, whether it be in a marriage or if he’d ended up in prison. I met him a couple of years later and in his words “turned is life round”. He had given up on his faith and now we started to go to Mass together. We got married in a register office, we’ve been together for 36yrs and have genuinely been through richer, poorer, better, worse, sickness and health. He has looked after me through my diagnosis of Leukaemia and now I am looking after him as he copes with terminal Cancer. We tried for an annulment before we married and once again 2 years ago, – we were told by the Bishops at Westminster to “give up, you’ve had two bites of the cherry”. We pray constantly to the Divine Mercy and through the Grace of God hope that one day we will be married in the Catholic Church. We love each other and continue to love each other and our amazing children whom God has blessed us with. I hope that our broken hearts can be mended one day and we will be married in the Catholic church, as everything is possible with God who is Love and Forgiveness (unlike the Bishops of Westminster). Please keep us in your prayers. Thank you.

  10. Kate, get a life. Maria divine mercy is a fake.
    The Holy Father was validly elected in the traditional format, if there are any problems during his papacy, Our Lord Jesus will not let the gates of hell prevail against His precious mystical body.

  11. Re the topic here, the clergy is not really interested in anything people in the pew have to say. They are not going to conduct any surveys regarding diocesan spending, ministering to single moms, widows, singles, etc. Yes, the church is not a democracy, but they are far removed from ministering to everyday parishioner needs except for the those on the extreme edge like the poor.

    @Julia, you can take issue with Kate, but do bear in mind that when Jesus warned of false teachers in the gospel, Jesus was referring to false teachers *inside* the church, –not outside.

  12. As Catholics we’re followers of Christ and since Church teachings on marriage and family are from Christ they cannot change. What would be helpful for many would be a clearer catechesis on these issues. The homily would be a good opportunity to reach most, at least the Catholics who care enough to attend regular Mass. Marriage preparation should certainly be used to catechize couples about what marriage really is. If they can’t accept it, then don’t marry them. That way they couldn’t come back five years later and say, “Oh instead I didn’t mean it.”

  13. I think people are forgetting the most important words of Jesus, in fact the only commandment he gave:Love one another as I have loved you. Instead, I see them as being a little like the Pharisees, There have always been problems in the church that need to be solved through prayer and discussion, such as the first Council in Jerusalem. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit of Wisdom to come upon our Pope and Bishops and sleep easily tonight.

  14. If Francis truly desires input from the pews about any matter then he should have people from the pews consulting directly with him and not through intermediaries in the hierarchy. And those “people of God” would include women as well as men, people of all ages.

  15. Carlos Lavastida

    “that “language” has been used in Spain for aaaaaaaaaaaages”

    Do you have any idea about the difference in spanish and english translated from latin. For one thing, latin and spanish are sister langiages and quite close in its common terminology, for second and more important the spanish language treats all appeals to God in the familiar mode, something that english usage for “you”, Lord, is totally different than english who would consider it sacrilegious to address God in the second person “tu” and Jesus with senor, the same as anyone other person, respectful but far from the “Lordy” connotation of english usage. As the english bishops have pointed out, the current english of the New Roman Missal is perhaps one of the ugliest, most anachronistic uses of the language in 100 years, It sounds in some cases like tongue twisters and for all it’s worth has about the same meaning as vocalizing in latin, none.

    CL

  16. I highly recommend to read bishop Forte’s presentation of the document at the Vatican, quoting John XXIII: doctrine will not change, referring to a clear recent magisterium; thus, the input of the laity is for pastoral reasons. See the concrete question about helping people with the teaching of Humanae vitae.Francis will not undermine Paul VI and the Catechism.

  17. I’m an atheist, married to another atheist, and we are celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary tomorrow. We got married in a friends garden by a marriage celebrant and because we were poor used a cousins friendship ring as a wedding band.
    I am a nurse, he was a soldier until he retired on medical grounds. We raised 2 kids. Have never broken a law and donated our time and money over the years to various causes, mistly Doctors Without Borders at the moment due to the conflicts that are occurring with little medical aid getting through. One can be good without religion.
    I agree with most of those posting here. If the Catholic church changes some of its core doctrines now how will justify the changes to the faithful. However it is facing a dilemma as congregant numbers in the West are diminishing. While the church has been growing its numbers in poorer countries this is where their problems lay. Call me a cinic but poor people probably can’t support the substantial financial needs of the church it has become accustomed to; specially with the avalanche if child abuse compensation payments from around the world heading its way. Could it be these elite Catholic men prefer to let the doctrinal cornerstones of the faith its been preaching for over 1.5 millenia go in order to grow their Western flocks and therefor have the collection plates overflowing once more. I wonder……….

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