- Now the talking really begins
Pope Francis wanted frankness and openness and that is what he got. But there is also the sense that the real debate in the Church about marriage and families is only just starting
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There is only a matter of days for Catholics to communicate to the Vatican their views on sensitive issues such as birth control, divorce, and gay marriage. Its questionnaire has so far garnered thousands of responses across the country as respondents spend time, sometimes hours, committing their views to the screen.
The initiative reflects Pope Francis' pledge to move away from what he called a “Vatican-centric” approach to one in which local church leaders are more involved in decision-making. Its findings will assist in the preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the family that will be held in October 2014.
Sadly the survey has been unprofessionally drafted by the Vatican curia, so other, more simplified, versions of the survey have been created. As well as the original from Rome, there is also a simplified one from the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, another from Newman University College in Birmingham and one from Seattle, to name but three.
In addition, 50 Catholic scholars have produced a statement on marriage and the family as their contribution to the consultation. You can find their statement and related material on the website. The leader of the drafting committee was Prof Joseph Selling of Louvain University, who had previously published critical but ignored responses to Humanae Vitae for the Vatican's earlier Synod on the Family of 1980. The statement was agreed at a colloquium of moral theologians that was held in Leeds on 8-10 November and will be submitted to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in mid-December.
Diocesan delegates from the reform-minded group A Call To Action (ACTA), who met recently at Hinsley Hall in Leeds, discussed the questionnaire, which will serve on completion as preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the family that will be held in October 2014. However, delegates in Leeds agreed to try and answer the original Vatican questionnaire to avoid later problems in the collation of responses.
Take one issue raised in the survey – birth control. Despite episcopal criticisms of “cafeteria Catholicism”, sociological surveys conducted by the late Catholic sociologist Fr Andrew Greeley and the Guttmacher organisation in the States, as well as other research institutions, show that most Catholic couples use so-called artificial contraception at some stage in their lives. Professional researches in the English-speaking parts of the world demonstrate that the use of contraception by the Catholic laity is similar to the rest of their respective populations. In other words, the papal teaching of Humanae Vitae has not been 'received' by the people of God. Now is lay Catholics’ opportunity to tell this, along with their other frustrations and hopes, to Rome.
Respondents have only been given until tomorrow, Saturday 30 November, to fill in the survey. It is important that people with experience of family life respond to this welcome consultation.
You can find the survey here.