21 February 2014, The Tablet

Marriage and the family – what do Catholics around the world think? Read the few survey results that have been published

Last autumn the Vatican ordered an unprecedented survey of Catholic views on issues around marriage and family life – such as contraception and same-sex marriage – in advance of October’s Extraordinary Synod on the family.

The bishops’ conferences of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland have refused to release the results of their surveys. In England and Wales, the bishops’ conference, which led the way by making the Vatican questionnaire available online in November, said that its 16,000 responses will be kept under wraps in “accordance with the wishes of the Holy See”.

But around the world, other bishops’ conferences have gone much further. The results that have been released – from countries including America, Germany and Japan – reveal a disparity between Church teaching and Catholic practice.

Issues such as divorce and remarriage and homosexuality proved controversial and polarising – but, almost universally, the Church was condemned for being out of touch on issues such as artificial contraception and co-habition.

What follows is a brief summary of those responses that have been published and links to the full results, in English when available. Do let us know if more are published.


In Cardinal Vincent Nichols' archdiocese the survey results were not published but an official published a reflection on them entitled "Crisis means opportunity".


The bishops issued a statement about what respondents in Ireland had said. They noted: "Many of those who responded to the questionnaire expressed particular difficulties with the teachings on extra-marital sex and cohabitation by unmarried couples, divorce and remarriage, family planning, assisted human reproduction, homosexuality. The Church’s teaching in these sensitive areas is often not experienced as realistic, compassionate, or life-enhancing. Some see it as disconnected from real-life experience, leaving them feeling guilty and excluded. We recognise our responsibility as bishops to present faithfully the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family in a positive and engaging way, whilst showing compassion and mercy towards those who are finding difficulty in accepting or living it."


The diocese of St Petersburg in Florida, published the Vatican’s survey on its website and more than 6,800 people filled it in. The diocese has published the results and sent them to the Vatican.

Bishop Robert Lynch said that in the diocese there was strong support for “traditional” marriage, but said that respondents felt the Church needed to be better prepared to respond “to the reality of same-sex marriage”. Many said that the Church needed to be kinder and less judgemental towards gay and lesbian people.

Respondents said that premarital cohabitation was common-place and that Catholics had, in general, rejected church teaching on contraception.

Read the full results and Bishop Lynch’s comments here.


Results from Germany revealed a significant disparity between church teaching on the family and what practising Catholics believe – most significantly on issues around divorce and remarriage, contraception and homosexuality.

Pre-marital co-habitation, it said, was almost universal, and divorcees remarrying was “a normal part of pastoral reality” in Germany.

“The baptised do not consider their situation to be irregular. People in fact emphatically reject the terms ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ in this context because they are perceived as being marginalising and discriminating, particularly vis-à-vis families which in any case are already facing difficult living conditions,” they added.

In its report the German bishops’ conference said that Church teaching on sexual morality was viewed outside the Church as “incomprehensible and unrealistic”.

In addition it warned that many Catholics do not understand some areas of church teaching because they do not understand the theology behind them – for example, natural law.

All of Germany’s 27 dioceses and around 20 German Catholic organisations provided official responses to the Vatican questionnaire.

Read the full results in English here.


Respondents to the survey in Switzerland praised the Church for its “family-friendly” attitude, but said its sexual morality was unrealistic.

Respondents said that marriage was still an important sacrament, and the vast majority said they wanted a Christian education for their children.

But, they said, almost all believers – 90 per cent – disagreed with the Church’s ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion, which they said was exclusionary and lacking in mercy. A majority – 60 per cent – called for the Church to bless same-sex partnerships, but the bishops’ conference said that the issue polarised respondents.

They said that most Catholics used artificial contraception.

The bishops surveyed all believers and received 25,000 responses.

Read the full results in German here.


Although the bishops are not publishing the results of their survey, Catholic institutions organised polls using edited versions of the Vatican’s sometimes complicated questions. The lay website Katholiek.nl reported that their results showed “a large gap between bishops and believers”, and said that Catholics want a Church of mercy, not of rules. They complained that bishops seemed to be “above” other believers.

A substantial number of respondents said that they had no problem with gay marriage, cohabitation or artificial contraception, and criticised the Church for having what they said was an outdated, inflexible stance on these issues.

Katholiek.nl's results in Dutch here.


The bishops offered a synthesis of their results here in which they noted that the respondents experienced a growing tension between church teaching and where to connect their personal Christian belief.


The response of the Japanese bishops was highly critical of the Vatican’s “Europe-centric” view and warned that few Catholics in Japan were actually aware of Church teaching on family issues.

On contraception, the bishops said:

"Most Catholics in Japan have not heard of Humanae vitae [the 1968 encyclical that prohibits Catholics from using artificial contraception]. If they have, they probably do not make it an important part of their lives. Social and cultural values as well as financial considerations are more important. There is a big gap between the Vatican and reality. Condom use is recommended in sex education classes in schools."

Citing the gospel story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, the bishops said that Jesus does not focus on her cohabitation, and instead commissions her as a missionary.

The latest statistics (2012) show that there are approximately 440,000 Japanese Catholics, about 0.35% of the population.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan sought responses from bishops, superiors of religious orders and lay and clerical experts.

Read the full results in English here.

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