U.S. Catholics Make Known Their Opinions on Marriage and Family Issues

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 Familythe 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:

  1. Pastoral care urgently needed
  2. Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
  3. Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
  4. Same-sex marriage
  5. Women in the Church
  6. Sexual abuse scandals
  7. 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).

You can read some of the qualitative responses to the survey either in English or Spanish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Formation of Gay-Straight Alliances Should Be Top Priority at Catholic Schools

National Gay-Straight Alliance DayToday is National Gay-Straight Alliance Day.  February 6th has been marked by a coalition of youth advocacy organizations to raise awareness for the need of such organizations in our schools. Catholic schools are no exception.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network highlights the challenges posed to gay, lesbian, and transgender students:

  • “More than 85 percent of LGBT students have been verbally harassed;
  • Nearly 20 percent of LGBT students were physically assaulted by their peers at school;
  • Almost 40 percent of LGBT students reported that faculty and staff never intervene when homophobic language is used in their presence;
  • Nearly 30 percent of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire school day because they felt unsafe.”

Those behind National Gay-Straight Alliance Day propose expanding the presence of GSAs at schools to combat negative experiences and provide greater safety:

“Violence and discrimination against LGBT students is the rule, not the exception, in American schools. It is a national disgrace that students feel threatened in school simply because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  While Americans need to know that thousands of students each day go to school or college and endure LGBT violence and harassment, they must also know that GSAs are a tool in helping end violence and that these student groups save lives.”

Nearly half of Catholic colleges in the United States offer gay-friendly resources (here is a full listing by New Ways Ministry) and there are many GSA-style groups in Catholic high schools,  but the establishment of support groups remains a conflict for many schools.

In Canada, the province of Ontario passed legislation in mid-2012 mandating that all schools allow student clubs focused upon sexual orientation or gender identity. Catholic schools, which are funded by the government, were included in the law, but critics claim they have failed to provide anti-bullying or school spirit groups with an explicit LGBT focus. The Hamilton Spectator reports on this criticism and the government’s firm enforcement of the law:

“But according to local activist Deirdre Pike, [not naming the support clubs “gay-straight alliances”] could leave students feeling excluded and without the support they need…

“‘Until they get intentional about naming these groups, the silence will continue.’

“The education minister’s office, meanwhile, says the legislation is “clear” about the government’s commitment to safe, inclusive and accepting schools for all students, including those who are LGBT.”

In Australia, Daniel Torcasio is speaking about his troubling experiences teaching at an all-male Catholic high school where homophobic speech, bullying, and discriminatory employment practices were commonplace. The former teacher details one incident in 2009 for The Star Observer:

“‘A 13-year old kid came to me and told me he was gay. He’d only told his family and a few close friends, and told me so that if he was ever bullied at school someone would understand the situation and be able to help,’ Torcasio said.

“‘Naturally I took it to the school leadership, who then went to the Catholic Education Office…’

“‘The reply back from them was that we were never to mention matters like this again. That kid could’ve come to me as a cry for help – if he’d said he was suicidal or that he was being bullied, we would’ve been told to help him in any way we could, but because he was gay, we weren’t ever to discuss it,’ he said.”

Torcasio also left that position because of policies against gay staff that created a culture of silence for fear of termination:

“‘I was fairly open about my sexuality in the staff room, but I couldn’t let one detail of my private life slip to my students. If I’d mentioned my sexuality to someone or a parent had complained, I would have lost my job,’ he said.

“Torcasio claimed the ‘Catholic ethos’ stipulation in teacher’s contracts was only enforced on gay teachers.”

Torcasio, an alumnus of the high school, had returned to teach at the school after fifteen years expecting students would be more accepting than when he was a student and experienced severe bullying. He was disturbed by a continued culture of homophobia. The Catholic school district officially has no policy on LGBT students other than bland language regarding Catholic values.

Clearly, the common thread in these stories is the desperate need for students, educators, and parents to speak up. In Catholic schools, the establishment of gay-straight alliances that provide safe spaces for LGBT and questioning students, allow peer support to emerge, and create respectful atmospheres should be a top priority.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related recent post

February 1: Raising LGBT Standards in Catholic Schools