US Bishops Slowly Catching Up to Pope Francis for Synod on Marriage and Family

Since Pope Francis asked for widespread consultation about matters relating to marriage and family life, there has been confusion about what exactly this request would look like.  Because the US bishops‘ conference promised to follow ‘usual’ protocol for this unusual papal request in the US, indicating that they would not encourage bishops to consult the laity, church reform organizations prepared online surveys for Catholics to offer input and. Now, it seems, the American hierarchy has caught on to the pope’s message, and opportunities for Catholics to speak out are expanding.

Brian Roewe reviewed available surveys in the United States at National Catholic Reporterand as of November 22nd there were 46 dioceses actively soliciting parishioners’ input. As for the breakdown, Roewe reports:

“So far, dioceses seeking lay consultation stretch as far south as Palm Beach, Fla., to as far north as Juneau, Alaska, with San Jose, Calif.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Rapid City, S.D.; Dallas; New Orleans; and Great Falls-Billings, Mont., among others, scattered in between.

“The bulk — more than a third of the identified dioceses — came from the Midwest; 10 apiece resided in the West/Southwest and the Northeast, and another nine from the South.”

Catholic Organizations for Renewal published one of the first online 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. However, whether these diocesan solicitations are authentic opportunities for listening is an open question:

“Most dioceses have made clear that the survey is not a poll of Catholic opinions. To give the questions greater context, nearly all dioceses posted alongside the survey the official preparatory document.

“In addition, some dioceses provided links to church teachings and Vatican documents covered in the questions, with several providing a frequently-asked-questions section for additional information.”

“Others took a more narrow approach. The St. Louis archdiocese stated it would retrieve input from ‘targeted focus groups’…”

In Canada, the Grass-roots Catholics for the Synod on Marriage and Family have published their own online survey.

As Bondings 2.0 noted previously, it is unclear what impact these survey results will have during next fall’s Synod of Bishops, and yet there are positive takeaways in the present moment. Charles Martel, co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, told The Rainbow Times:

” ‘The Vatican survey of the faithful is extraordinary because it is asking what the people feel, not hearing it only from the filter of the hierarchy: How lives are actually lived in reality and not theory…’

” ‘Asking questions about gay persons and the pastoral needs of same-sex couples first of all acknowledges the need to be attentive to these members of the church.’ “

For many surveys, their deadlines are in December so there is sufficient time to compile the data for the synod. It is urgent and important that LGBT-positive Catholics to make their voices heard, and re-frame the conversation on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry noted the need for such re-framing when he spoke to The Rainbow Times:

“It is important that lay Catholics take part in this consultation process…[New Ways Ministry] has been calling for such a process for decades. Now that we have a pope who is willing to listen, it is imperative that Catholics participate by offering their opinions…

“Asked about the LGBT-specific questions, DeBernardo replied, ‘Less emphasis on the question of same-gender unions’ and ‘more emphasis on the pastoral responses that local churches are making to LGBT people generally.’

” ‘The biggest church problem around LGBT issues is not the expansion of marriage equality…The biggest church problem is homophobia, particularly among many of the hierarchy and other pastoral leaders, which prevents good outreach from happening…A good question about the extent of homophobia and how to combat it would have helped.’ “

With the American bishops reluctant to move towards Pope Francis’ leadership style, lay Catholics need to let them know about their desire for changes in teaching, pastoral practice, and leadership style. You can find a growing list of available surveys here and do not delay, as deadlines are fast approaching.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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