Since the Vatican asked for Catholic input to inform next fall’s Synod of Bishops, ambiguity reigns among lay people, clergy, and, it appears, even the Vatican. Directions to disseminate it “immediately” and “as widely as possible” accompanied the Vatican’s release of the 39-question survey, but how this is incarnated is less clear and limited interpretations in the US have left many unhappy.
Officials at the Vatican seem conflicted on what exactly the Synod is asking of bishops and lay people. National Catholic Reporter notes remarks by Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general-secretary of the Synod, as potentially clarifying:
“Baldisseri said pastors were expected to provide summaries of the views and experiences of parishioners and that their findings would be ‘channeled’ in turn through national bishops’ conferences for ultimate consideration by the synod.
“Individual Catholics are welcome to communicate their views directly to the synod’s offices at the Vatican, Baldisseri said. His staff is preparing the synod’s working document, which should be published in May.”
Also unclear is what weight responses from non-episcopal voices will carry in the Synod, and even what the Synod’s scope will entail:
“[Archbishop Bruno] Forte said he wanted to emphasize the ‘pastoral slant’ of the theme as ‘a perspective through which the Holy Father invites us to look upon the value of the family and the challenges it faces today.’
” ‘It is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions…But rather how to understand how to effectively proclaim the Gospel of the family in the times we are living, characterized by a clear social and spiritual crisis.’ “
As for the US bishops, their conference has closed off any broader consultation with Catholics and asks only for bishops to send their personal observations. This path has left many dissatisfied, and several bishops and past staff at the USCCB called the letters from the Vatican and the Conference conflicting messages.
Coincidentally, the Archdiocese of Detroit published a questionnaire for Catholics about the quality of parish life and local church issues which is unrelated to the upcoming synod. This survey, according to National Catholic Reporter, skips topics such as marriage equality and the archdiocese’s spokesperson went to lengths separating it from the Vatican’s request for Catholic input.
Equally dissatisfied are many American Catholics who desire their voices be heard at the Synod and question what impact this effort will actually have in reforming Church practices. Catholic Organizations for Renewal has launched its own survey, based on the Vatican’s questions, and is available to be completed by clicking here.
Linda Pinto, the facilitator of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a leadership forum of US progressive Catholic organizations said, “U.S. Catholics have been happily surprised that the Vatican is seeking input on issues like divorce and remarriage, use of contraception, same-sex marriage, and what kind of pastoral practice is effective and appropriate. They have been disappointed that there was not a vehicle for them to give their input. That’s why we created this on-line survey. Lay Catholics have strong feelings and a great deal of experience on these matters. Our voices, along with those of our bishops, need to be heard.”
Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR) 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). Additional organizations are being invited to sponsor the project, and to encourage their members to complete it.
“We want this survey to reach as many U.S. Catholics as possible,” said Pinto. “These are important issues, and our goal is that everyone who wants to have input should have that chance. How our Church ministers to people is of concern to all of us.”
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have also launched a survey to gather Catholic input in the US in place of the bishops’ silence.
New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo was interviewed on MSNBC-TV’s News Nation program last week about the survey and he supported the idea of lay people providing their opinions to the synod. “The Church teaches that lay people have a right and a duty to express their opinions to their leaders in areas in which they have competence,” DeBernardo stated. “Who but lay people have greater competence in the areas of sexuality, gender, and relationships, since they live those realities every day.”
NBC News reports on several Catholic reform leaders and theologians offering their input, quoting Professor Thomas Groome of Boston College as saying:
” ‘To my knowledge, it’s the first time in the history of the magisterium have genuinely attempted to consult the laity’…
” ‘All of these things have been closed issues and you could be fired for even talking about them. Raising these questions and polling people — it at least signals something other than a closed mind. You have to thank God for small mercies.’ “
NBC News also quotes Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA:
” ‘It’s pretty astonishing…’
“I think it demonstrates a grounding in the practical realities of the world,’ Duddy-Burke said, though she cautioned that the real test is if the Vatican agrees to hear from a diverse range of families at the actual synod.
Amid this confusion, Michael O’Loughlin writes at Religion News Service about his hopes for the Synod, especially in regard to LGBT issues. He notes that, recently, the term ‘family’ is synonymous with the anti-LGBT agenda of Catholics who opposed equal rights, or worse acted harshly against gay and lesbian people. However, with Pope Francis, O’Loughlin has more positive hopes:
“Perhaps the synod will lead to divorced and remarried Catholics having access to communion. And, maybe, too, it’ll lead to the rights of all children, including those being raised by two parents of the same gender, to be baptized and to attend religious education classes and Catholic schools. Recognizing the impact of quality work on family life, perhaps the church will support the rights of LGBT people in employment law, or at least the rights to hold jobs at Catholic institutions. Parishes might consider ways to make non-traditional families feel like they are valued parts of the faith community. Or, maybe, the synod won’t address LGBT people and families at all. Which would be an improvement, too.”
Whether or not the Synod will take up LGBT family matters is, as expected, unclear. Regardless, it is important for LGBT-affirming Catholics to make their voices heard through the surveys offered by Catholic Organizations for Renewal and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry