SYNOD SHORTS is a new, occasional series designed to bring you news about the upcoming Vatican Synod on Marriage and Family, scheduled for October 2014. Since so much news is generated about this meeting, we hope that this feature will help keep you informed, particularly on news relating to LGBT issues and the synod.
Was England Silenced by the Vatican?
The Tablet reported that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has cited the Vatican as their reason not to publish findings from an online survey designed to elicit lay opinion on marriage and family which they made available last fall. The bishops were hailed at the time for posting the Vatican’s questionnaire online and 16,600 responses were received. When called upon by Catholics to release the results, a conference spokesperson said the synod’s secretary general, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, told Cardinal Vincent Nichols that responses should be kept private.
The spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also stated that the Vatican’s request was that all episcopal conferences withhold results , though this is unconfirmed and already bishops in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere have made the questionnaire responses public.
A church reform group known as “A Call to Action” (ACTA) wrote a letter to the British bishops’ conference that quoted Baldisseri as saying the very opposite of what Nichols has stated. ACTA stated:
“[Baldisseri] has said the results of the questionnaire show the ‘urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church.’ The letter, which praises the bishops’ decision to publish the survey online, then states: ‘Withholding the results cannot be a promising way to begin that pastoral dialogue.’ “
Cardinal Baldisseri has also engaged in this participatory process himself, hosting a forum in early April called “Listening to the family. Uncertainty and expectations.” According to Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter, the forum held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome focused on issues related to family life, and it included scholars and married people sharing their wisdom through small group discussions.
Outside of England, the decision is mixed on whether to release findings from the questionnaire responses or keep them for bishops alone. Irish and some American bishops have been more open, while Canadian bishops are remaining quiet.
In Ireland, a theory-practice gap
The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin called Catholic teaching on sexuality and family life, including same-gender relationships, “disconnected from real life experiences of families — and not just be younger people.” He said it was “poorly understood…[and] accepted,” saying there was a “theory-practice gap” between what the Church teaches and how it is lived out. The Times reports further:
“On same sex relations ‘some saw the church’s position as being purely negative and judgemental…Many felt that there should be some way of civilly recognising stable same-sex unions, but there was a clear hesitancy, uneasiness and opposition with regard to marriage for same sex unions,’ he said.”
Martin has previously spoken strongly in favor of the dignity of lesbian and gay people. Earlier this year, he said that to be anti-gay was to be anti-God and has called for a more respectful tone in the debate over marriage rights. The Irish bishops reversed a March decision to withhold the results and made them public. In a statement reported on by the National Catholic Reporter, they said:
” ‘The church’s teaching in these sensitive areas [of sexuality and family life] is often not experienced as realistic, compassionate, or life-enhancing.’ “
Canadian bishops followed a plan similar to the Americans by leaving the decision to engage lay consultation up to each bishop, creating a fragmented situation. Only 13 of 73 diocese made it available online, which, according to president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Archbishop Paul -André Durocher, gave the country’s prelates a “good read” of the pastoral situation.
Critique from India
“My own reading of the questionnaire found two critical lacunae. As a woman functioning in an interfaith family for the past 25 years in a subcontinent where women form the anawim - or ‘poor ones’ – vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, I felt excluded. I found no attempt to elicit information about the status of women in the family, a factor so crucial to the health of the family.
“Interfaith marriages were another silent zone in the questionnaire…Unfortunately the focus of the questionnaire was on divorced Catholics and same-sex unions. I wish there had been more sensitivity to the concerns of Asia.”
Her comments echo those of the Japanese bishops, who earlier this year wrote about the Vatican’s questionnaire being irrelevant to their pastoral reality. Rethinking marriage and family must entail the wisdom of a global Catholic community. For a thoughtful analysis of the global community’s challenge to Catholicism, read Jesuit Jeremy Zipple’s analysis at The Jesuit Post.
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–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry