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The ground-breaking questionnaire about marriage and family life posted online by the bishops of England and Wales is part of an effort by Rome to encourage lay Catholics "openly and with all sincerity, what they really think", a Vatican official said yesterday.
Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, whom Pope Francis recently named Secretary General of next October's meeting of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the family, told a press conference in the Vatican yesterday: "We don't just want the bishops sitting around a table and drawing up a report."
His view appeared at odds with Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdo, the extraordinary Synod assembly's General Relator, who told reporters the responses to the questionnaire would not prompt a change in the Church's Magisterium. "We don't want to re-open a discussion on Catholic doctrine, but look at all situations based on a pastoral approach," he said.
Archbishop Baldisseri sent the preparatory document to all the national episcopal conferences in an effort to stimulate the process of lay involvement. It includes 38 questions that seek to find out the laity's "experience" of dealing with such things as divorced and remarried Catholics, unmarried couples who co-habit, stable same-sex relationships and attitudes toward the Church's longstanding ban on the use of artificial contraception.
"I would be most grateful if you would distribute the document to the dioceses and ask them to share it immediately, as widely as possible, to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received regarding the themes and responses to the questionnaire," he wrote to the conference presidents in a letter dated 18 October.
He asked them to send a "synthesis" of those responses to his office by the end of January. Those, in turn, will be used to compile the Synod assembly's Instrumentum Laboris or working document.
He also said that, while the Synod is a body of the bishops, he expected a "large number of women" and laymen to participate as experts and observers at next year's assembly.
The Bishops of England and Wales appear to be the only national conference to have posted the Synod questionnaire on their website, offering Catholics the opportunity to respond online.
However, Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte, the assembly's Special Secretary, offered a slight note of openness. "We must take a risk, as Pope Francis has shown us," he said, noting that the Church and its teachings "develop" over time.
Take the survey here.