Lay Consultation Challenges Are A Result of Bishops’ Reluctance

In the wake of Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, which has been well received worldwide, there is a renewed urgency for the faithful to make their voices heard before next fall’s Synod of Bishops on the Family. Commentaries on what this input could mean, the challenge of collecting it, and how Catholic voices could affect change have popped up at the same time as a number of online surveys.

Reporting on the challenges of collecting Catholic input “as widely as possible,” which the Vatican directed bishops to do, Joshua McElwee writes at National Catholic Reporter:

“Organizing such an effort, said several coordinators of bishops’ previous attempts to engage in wide-range listening, takes time, dedication and a sincere desire to listen to the everyday experiences of Catholics — regardless of whether their viewpoints fall outside the bounds of strict adherence to church teaching.

“It also depends on the ability of those doing the collection of the data to sort it and then find ways to interpret what it means.”

Looking to the past, these periods of consultations were measured in years, not months or even weeks as is the current timeline. The process by which bishops should prepare for the synod is complicated and requires far more efforts than American Catholics have seen to this point, according to a former staff member at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

“Dolores Leckey, a former U.S. bishops’ staffer who spearheaded their preparations for the 1987 Synod on the laity, said preparations for that event unfolded over two years and included listening sessions held by priests and bishops in parishes across the country and wide submission of suggestions on the topic to the bishops’ national office…

“Taking lessons from her experience in the 1980s, Leckey said the U.S. bishops today should ‘try to get people to talk about what their life is like, what are their problems, what do they need from the church, what’s the major pastoral issue for them.’

” ‘If, in truth, the parish, as an agent of the church, is there to help people along the way, I would want to find out what is it that they perceive they need…’ “

A handful of dioceses (three in Iowa, Philadelphia, and Baltimore), some national bishops conferences (notably Belgium and the joint conference of England and Wales), as well as church reform organizations (Catholic Organizations for Renewal and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good) have released surveys. There is little indication of how the data will be compiled and not much time to elicit responses. More troubling is the reluctance with which bishops in the US are reaching out to the Catholic faithful, as they have been asked by the Vatican to do, given the relatively short time available before the Synod in 2014.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, explained to the National Catholic Reporter that regardless of unknowns and impediments from the bishops, Catholics must use raises their voices in this moment. The import is less about compiling data than truly listening to faithful Catholics who want renewal in their Church:

“What is really going to be heard here is sort of the cries of the people, in some ways when they are talking about their pastoral needs and where they are seeing them being met, and where they’re not being met through the church structure”…

“The fact that these questions are being raised, and there seems to be an opportunity to talk about pastoral needs of people in real situations is very exciting for Catholics”

Bondings 2.0 is providing a list of available surveys, so find one  and send your thoughts to Pope Francis! You can find the listing here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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  1. […] surveys, as did Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. It appears bishops are reacting to such lay efforts by offering their own options of online surveys, mailed-in responses, and discussion events. […]

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