Synod Data Collection Is Slow, Uneven, and Complex in U.S. Dioceses

They Synod on Marriage and the Family which will take place in October 2015 at the Vatican will be as strongly debated as the extraordinary synod on the same topic which took place last year, according to John Allen, veteran Vatican observer, who writes at Crux

Allen predicted that lesbian and gay family issues will be one of three hot-button topics, along with discussions of co-habitating couples, and divorced and remarried people.  Allen’s analysis provides detailed insights into a large number of the bishops and cardinals who will be delegates there, noting who is progressive, who is conservative, and who is in-between.  His descriptions read like a “scorecard” for the various “players” who will be in attendance.  You can read his entire essay by clicking here.

One somewhat hopeful sign for the question of lesbian and gay couples will be the presence of Santiago, Chile’s Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, who, while not supporting marriage equality, does support civil unions for same-gender couples. Not ideal, but at least there’s indication that these questions will continue to be debated.

While there is a some evidence that many dioceses have been collecting input from Catholics in the pew, the statistics are not remarkable, and, as one analyst has shown, they don’t show the full picture. In February, The National Catholic Reporter (NCR)surveyed the websites of 178 U.S. dioceses and archdioceses and found that 52% (93) of them have been collecting information in some fashion.

Of the six bishop-delegates and two alternates to the synod, six of them have shown evidence of collecting data.  No evidence of collection was available for Galveston-Houston’s Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, a delegate, and Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, an alternate.

But NCR Editor Dennis Coday observed, the data collection time period for a number of dioceses was very short, and in some cases, the input was asked only from a select group of Catholics.  For example, he cited “parish council members in Stockton, Calif., or ‘pastors, parochial administrators, and parochial vicars’ in Venice, Fla.”

Other Catholic groups have stepped up to fill in this void.  “Strong Catholic Families,” a coalition of four national Catholic associations, has made their own survey available online, noting that not only were many dioceses not collecting data, but of those that were, the questionnaires were often long, complex, and difficult to understand.   One official of the coalition spoke to the NCR:

” ‘It became pretty frustrating for me, even as a church leader, to read [the official synod surveys] and think of the people who had to respond to them, and how difficult it is to both understand and respond pastorally to those kinds of questions,” said Michael Theisen, director of Ministry Formation at the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, part of Strong Catholic Families”

The other three organizations that are part of this coalition are the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, and the National Catholic Educational Association.

Additionally, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has sent out the Vatican survey to their membership, but did not ask them to answer the questions.  Instead, they asked them to rank the questions in order of importance.

Fr. Bernard Survil, an (ACP) board member, told the NCR:

“We want to let our delegates know … that this is what you should be focusing on.”

The ACP acknowledged the same problem with the Vatican survey that Strong Catholic Families noted: difficulty of answering it.  NCR reported:

“Part of the reason the priests association chose not to have priests answer the synod questions was the time associated with completing such a task. A priest from the Cheyenne, Mont., diocese told Survilthat it took him five hours to answer all 46 questions. In the instructions for its online survey, the Charlotte, N.C., diocese estimated two hours to complete.”

Perhaps the best data collection method is the simplest one, which was employed by Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky: he listened.   He held four public town hall meetings for Catholics in his diocese to express their views.

The Bowling Green Daily News noted the bishop’s motivation, which he spoke at the beginning of one meeting that the newspaper attended:

“When the pope said, ‘You need to listen,’ I tried to take him seriously. My job here tonight is to listen to what you have to say.”

And the people responded, the newspaper observed:

“Dozens of people spoke during the meeting, sharing their thoughts on how the church can more effectively address topics such as annulment, the sanctity of life and homosexuality. Many people shared personal stories, including their struggle to get an annulment and the challenges of making their children see church as a priority.”

Not surprisingly, the issue of homosexuality became a heated one.  When one woman spoke up expressing her thoughts along the line of “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” the mother of a gay son rose to refute such thinking:

“Donna Lauth, a Holy Spirit member whose son is gay, said homosexuality is not a condition.

“ ‘My son was born that way,’ she said. . . .

“Lauth said the church should ‘either accept everybody and love them the way God would, or don’t even bother at all.’

“She was glad for the chance to express her views to church leaders.

“ ‘They need to listen to us,’ she said. ‘Listening to us and getting some ideas, maybe there will be a change. You can only hope.’ ”

At the end of the meeting, Bishop Medley summed up his feelings about the evening’s wide-ranging discussion and debate:

“ ‘This is the church. It’s messy. It’s confusing,’ he said. ‘It’s a complex world and it’s a complex church, but it’s a church I love. (We’re trying to) be the best church we can be. In the end, it’s going to be an imperfect church.’ ”

While it is true that the church will always be in need of reform,  I believe that we should still strive for getting a number of things somewhere near right, at least.  Yes, we will be imperfect, but we can still begin to take a few steps closer to perfection.  It’s because of our imperfection, that we need much more debate and dialogue at all levels on so many issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Bondings 2.0: New Video Focuses on LGBT Catholics ‘Owning Our Faith‘ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Widen the Synod Circle with Diverse Voices

Bondings 2.0: SYNOD 2015: Preparations Begin with Key Questions About Collecting Data and the Goal of Church Ministry

For all Bondings 2.0 posts on Synod 2015, click here.

 

2 thoughts on “Synod Data Collection Is Slow, Uneven, and Complex in U.S. Dioceses

  1. Kat March 27, 2015 / 9:45 am

    I read and filled out only one question on the synod survey. The survey was offered on the Houston Galveston diocese website and closed a week or more ago. Michael Theisen is right about the difficulty of the questions. The questions were long, confusing, philisophical, intellectual and required a doctorate in theology to understand them and respond. The questions weren’t meant to engage the congregations. Every question was composed the same way lengthy, indirect, heady. Oh well, I answered the one that is important to me as a Catholic mother who wants to see the church do something to reachout to catholics who are gay and their families. Many of us have disconnected from church life altogether because of restrictive Church policies that are unwelcoming, even harmful. I answered the one question and that was it. I noted that the questions were difficult to respond to. I am not surprised to learn that nothing was sent in from Houston Galveston diocese, just disappointed.

  2. poolgirl2 March 27, 2015 / 9:50 am

    Our pastor passed out cards with the website url & said the survey was from the Pope. He said there were a couple of pages to read before the questions. There were 23 pages of very academic and dogmatic, convoluted explanations that very few ordinary people could understand. I believe the intent was to persuade us to understand church teaching. After that there were 47-48 questions, with each one giving more “propaganda” on how we should think.

    It took me over 10 hours to read everything and answer most of the questions. As far as a central issue of equality and rights for those of “homosexual tendencies”, I believe there were 2 questions! I have discussed this with several in my parish and most just said they could not understand it, it was too long, and they did not even respond.

    I, for one, do not believe this survey was from the Pope. He would not present a treatise if this sort to get the common person’s opinions!

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