In the past few weeks, we’ve posted about a few international bishops’ conferences reporting about what they have learned from their surveys of their lay people on matters of marriage and family life, in anticipation of the October 2014 Synod in Rome on those topics. More and more bishops’ conferences are starting to disclose the responses to these surveys, and we will be reporting on them in the coming days.
Noticeably absent has been any report from the U.S. bishops, and this is probably due to the fact that very few of them made the survey available to their laity. To remedy this omission of the voices of U.S. lay Catholics, a network of Catholic reform organizations sent out the survey to their members, and yesterday they have released a report on the compiled responses. Released by member groups of the Catholic Organizations for Renewal and entitled Voices of the People: Responses to the Vatican Survey in Preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the report provides statistics on the information gathered from over 16,000 respondents. According to a press release, the report categorized responses under seven major themes:
- Pastoral care urgently needed
- Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
- Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
- Same-sex marriage
- Women in the Church
- Sexual abuse scandals
- Skepticism and hope.
The survey responses were analyzed by an independent reviewer, Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. 53% of the respondents identified as weekly church-goers, higher than the national average of 31% of Catholics who do so.
On the issue of marriage equality, the report offers the following evaluation of Catholic attitudes:
“There is a law recognizing marriage equality in the states of 57 percent of the respondents (Q29) and marriage equality is very important for 26 percent of the respondents and extremely important for 47 percent (Q33*).
“Respondents were asked to judge the attitudes of their diocese, parish and small faith communities toward both marriage equality and same-‐sex couples in a committed partnership (Q30). As the geography of the entity became more local and familiar, i.e. from diocese to parish to faith community, the respondents’ judged that the attitudes were less hostile, less condemning and less negative and became more supportive, even highly supportive. This pattern applied to both marriage equality and same-‐sex couples in a committed relationship. One third of respondents viewed their dioceses as hostile and condemning of marriage equality (37 percent) and same-‐ sex couples (35 percent); their parishes as hostile and condemning of marriage equality (11 percent) and same-‐sex couples (13 percent); and their faith communities as hostile and condemning of marriage equality (3 percent) and same-‐sex couples (4 percent).
“Asked about attitudinal support of marriage equality and same-‐sex couples, the inverse pattern applied: the more local, the more support for marriage equality and same-‐sex couples in a committed partnership (Q30). Seven percent of dioceses were seen being at least somewhat supportive of both situations, as did thirty one percent of parishes and two thirds of small faith communities. The striking contrast in this inverse pattern is the discrepancy between the dioceses perceived as hostile and condemning toward marriage equality (37 percent) and same-‐sex couples (35 percent) and the perception of the respondents’ small faith communities attitudes as being highly supportive of marriage equality (45 percent) and same-‐sex couples in a committed partnership (47 percent). “
The entire report concludes with the following observation from the analyst:
There can be no conclusion to this Report because it is offered as participation to the dialogue and discernment leading up to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family to be held in the Vatican during October 2014. However, if we were to try to capture what the respondents have said in one sentence, we turn to voice of Pope Francis when he wrote,
“ ‘The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, #114)
“If there were one near-‐universal hope of the over 16,000 respondents to this Survey, it would be that this vision of the church would become a pastoral reality.”
Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference. Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry