Monday, November 4, 2013

Polling American Catholics: A Summary of Suggestions, Plus Valuable Assistance Offered by Brian Coyne at Catholica

I don't mean to beat to death the matter of the Vatican's instructions to bishops' conferences to poll the Catholic faithful about contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce. I do want to be helpful, though, if any readers want information about this survey or guidance in figuring out how to submit responses--if readers intend, that is, to fill in one of the forms to which I've provided links in the past few days. I want to be helpful, because I agree with Terry Weldon in a comment he left here several days ago that this poll of the Catholic faithful is "huge in its implications - simply for the precedent it sets, just by the desire to sound the voice of the faithful."

We Catholic layfolks are almost never asked to voice our opinions on matters of faith and doctrine. That's true a fortiori in the U.S. Catholic church, where, true to form, our bishops have obtained an "exemption" from the Vatican instructions to poll the faithful and are assuring us that they'll follow their "usual procedure" in asking for our opinions--when they've never asked for our opinions in the formal, comprehensive way the Vatican envisages with this survey. So that there is no "usual procedure" for them to follow . . . . 

I'm an alienated Catholic who has been shoved to the margins of my church, and I don't take part in liturgical celebrations or have a great deal with do with the Catholic community as a result of my alienation. Nonetheless, I intend to make my own voice heard. I have already done so, by filling in and submitting the form that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has put online--to which I've pointed readers.

I intend to have my voice heard all the more because I'm an alienated Catholic. How can any survey seeking to ascertain what Catholic layfolks think and believe about the issues of contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce be in any way representative or accurate if it excludes the voices of the many lay Catholics who have been alienated from the church due to magisterial teaching about those issues--and by how Catholic institutions choose to enforce magisterial teaching about those issues?

How can this survey be representative or accurate if it does not listen carefully to the voices of gay Catholics shoved to the margins of the church by Catholic institutions that would never dream of violating the privacy of the bedrooms of heterosexually married employees and would never dream of firing those employees because they contracept, but which still freely and glibly fire gay employees who dare to be open about their lives?

For any American Catholic readers of Bilgrimage, alienated or otherwise, who are interested in submitting your feedback while the U.S. bishops have made no provisions for receiving that feedback, here are three suggestions I've offered in the past several days:

1. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has created an online survey form. It's here.

2. The English and Welsh Catholic bishops' conference has placed a survey online, noting that those responding from outside England and Wales should feel welcome to complete the survey. It's here.

3. Re: the latter extensive survey, yesterday I discussed the suggestion of a reader of National Catholic Reporter that people download the form, fill it out, print their responses, and mail them to Pope Francis. The person offering that suggestion helpfully offers NCR readers a copy of the downloaded form from the English and Welsh Catholic bishops' conference. It's here.

As Chris Morley points out in a valuable comment here several days ago, the form placed online by the English and Welsh bishops is daunting, and may be deliberately obfuscatory in some ways. It uses technical theological language that will probably be opaque for many lay Catholics. Chris says that it would be a real service if someone provided a plain English explanation of the questions the survey is asking, and hrh seconds that suggestion by asking if any unemployed theologians might be hanging around and available to help decode the theological lingo of the survey form.

Perhaps egotistically, I assume hrh might be nominating me to do that decoding. I definitely do want to be helpful to readers interested in answering the questions on the form. At the same time, I don't want to be presumptuous and to tread on the toes of the English and Welsh bishops' conference by rewriting their questionnaire, which is no doubt far more expertly written than any "translation" I might produce would be.

Thankfully, there actually is a resource online right now that does exactly what Chris and hrh are suggesting. It's at the Catholica site, a wonderful Australian Catholic blog site. Brian Coyne has begun a thread there that is "decoding" the English and Welsh bishops'  survey in a point-by-point fashion. On the page to which the link I've just provided points, if you click on "Survey Index" about halfway down the page, you'll arrive at this page which is discussing each of the questions the survey asks, point by point. 

I won't pretend that wading through the form provided by the English and Welsh bishops is easy, even with the very valuable assistance provided by Brian Coyne at Catholica. Trying to understand the form and fill it in completely requires homework. I have not yet read it in its entirety because it is so detailed, and to be perfectly frank, I find much of the theological terminology downright irritating and misplaced. It asks me as a lay Catholic who does not inhabit the thought universe of the clerical club to posture as a cleric while I pretend that this terminology is all-important and relevant to my experience as a lay Catholic.

Still. Still, I think this is a valuable exercise, because it's a chance for me to make my voice heard. As I note previously, I have already filled in the form provided by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and I may, as some contributors to the NCR threads discussing these surveys say they have decided to do, fill in both the English-Welsh bishops' form and that of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

After all, as those NCR readers point out, we Americans have a long tradition of casting our votes twice. And when our bishops have made no provisions at all for letting us have a say in this process, it seems reasonable that we'd try to use as many forums as possible to make our voices heard.

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