In an astonishing piece of news, the Vatican is asking bishops around the world to ask the faithful what they they think of contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce. Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter writes:
“The Vatican has asked national bishops’ conferences around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll of Catholics asking for their opinions on church teachings on contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce.
“Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, asked the conferences to distribute the poll ‘immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.’
“The poll, which comes in a questionnaire sent to national bishops’ conferences globally in preparation for a Vatican synod on the family next October, is the first time the church’s central hierarchy has asked for such input from grass-roots Catholics since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council.
“The upcoming synod, which Pope Francis announced earlier this month, is to be held Oct. 5-19, 2014, on the theme ‘Pastoral Challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.’ “
You can read an earlier post about the announcement of the 2014 synod on marriage and family by clicking here.
It seems that the U.S. bishops are not being encouraged by their national conference to conduct such wide consultation of the laity and pastoral leaders. McElwee writes:
“While Baldisseri asks in his letter for wide consultation on the questions,an accompanying letter sent with the U.S. version of the Vatican document does not request the American bishops undertake wide consultation in their dioceses. “That accompanying letter, dated Oct. 30, is sent from Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, the general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and only asks the U.S. bishops to provide their own observations. ” ‘In his correspondence, Archbishop Baldisseri requests the observations of the members of the Conference regarding the attached preparatory documents and questionnaire that will provide a basis for the preparation … for the extraordinary synod,’ Jenkins writes.”
(SEE UPDATE on USCCB statement here.)
This non-consultation is not the case around the globe, McElwee notes, pointing out a positive step by the British church:
“In contrast to the Americans, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has set up an online survey that Catholics in their countries can use to respond to the Vatican questions.”
McElwee enumerates some of the particular perspectives the Vatican has asked for on a wide-ranging set of topics such as family life, contraception, divorce, single-parent families, polygamy, interfaith marriages. On the topic of same-sex marriage, McElwee notes the Vatican has asked the following:
- Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks. “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?”
- How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “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?”
The exact text on same-sex marriage reads:
On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
a) Is there 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?
You can read Msgr. Jenkins’ letter, Archbishop Baldisseri’s letter, and the entire Vatican questionnaire by clicking here.
According to the Vatican’s Archbishop Baldisseri, this consultation and the 2014 synod are only the beginning steps. McElwee writes:
Baldisseri also states that Pope Francis wants the October 2014 synod to only be the first step in evaluating these questions and that he intends to address the questions again during a planned synod in 2015 marking the 50th anniversary of the synod’s establishment.
The October meeting, the accompanying preparatory document states, will ‘define the “status quaestionis” ‘ while the 2015 synod will ‘seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family.’ “
If U.S. bishops do not take this opportunity, this open invitation to elicit feedback from Catholics on these subjects, they are missing a great chance to hear the voice of the Spirit working in the church. Lay Catholics and pastoral leaders should go ahead and express their opinions to their bishops anyway. When the synod on marriage and the family was announced earlier this month, New Ways Ministry already encouraged people to make their opinions heard, and we do so again.
The Vatican under Pope Francis seems to be offering an outstretched hand to the people of the church, but even more so, the Vatican is encouraging the bishops to be listeners to the voice of the people. Catholics who support justice and equality for LGBT people and who have encouraged the Church to hold a dialogue on all matters sexual and relational have prayed for this opportunity for a long time. It’s time to seize this opportunity to let leaders know how faith has informed us to work for LGBT inclusion.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
October 9, 2013: What Would You Say About Marriage and Family at the Upcoming Synod?