Friday, November 1, 2013

More on Vatican Directive to Bishops' Conferences to Poll the Faithful, and U.S. Catholic Bishops' "Exemption"

A follow-up to what I posted yesterday about the directive of the Vatican's Synod of Bishops that national bishops' conferences poll lay Catholics about contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce: as I noted yesterday, at National Catholic Reporter, Joshua McElwee initially indicated that the U.S. Catholic bishops intended to poll only bishops and not lay Catholics.

At AmericaFr. James Martin later wrote that though the U.S. bishops seem to have received some kind of "exemption" from polling the faithful, their spokeswoman Helen Osman has stated that it will be up to each U.S. bishop to decide whether to implement the poll or not. Today at NCR, Joshua McElwee also reports on Osman's statement, noting that it was a response to the NCR report he had published about the bishops' "exemption."

As McElwee states, Osman has indicated that the bishops will follow their "usual process" in dealing with the Vatican directive to poll the faithful about contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce. And as Martin reports, McElwee quotes Osman to say the following: "It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome."

I don't have a clue what Osman might mean by the "usual process" that the U.S. bishops follow in polling the faithful. I can't recall a single instance throughout my years as a Catholic from 1967 up to now in which there has ever been any organized, official attempt of the Catholic hierarchy to ask lay Catholics what we think about the church's moral teachings. I continue to wonder whether the U.S. bishops want an "exemption" from the Vatican directive to poll the faithful because they know full well what lay Catholics think about these issues, and they do not want to create an official church-generated record of our dissent.

Given their apparent unwillingness to poll the faithful as the Vatican has directed them to do, I also suspect that the U.S. bishops will try to find as many ways as possible to limit the numbers (and kinds) of lay Catholics responding to any questionnaires used to poll the faithful, and to skew the data generated by the poll. The bishops simply do not want to accord lay Catholics a voice in shaping the teaching of the church, despite Vatican II's affirmation that the church is the entire people of God and its recognition that the church's teaching must consult and reflect the sensus fidelium

It will be interesting to see what develops as the bishops deal with this Vatican directive--which is interesting in and of itself.

P.S. Please see the following footnote to this posting discussing the way in which the bishops' conference of England and Wales has chosen to deal with the Vatican directive to consult the faithful.

The graphic: the cover of an edition of John Henry Newman's classic essay "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine" (1859).

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