Tuesday, February 4, 2014

German Bishops Release Results of Survey for Synod on Family: "Rarely Has an Institution Received Such Low Marks from Its Members"

Yesterday, the Catholic bishops of Germany made public the results of the survey of lay Catholics mandated by the Vatican in preparation for the Synod on the Family. As Tom Heneghan reports for Reuters, the bishops summarize the findings of the survey as follows--though German Catholics welcome the church's call to build stable, happy families,

The Church's statements on premarital sexual relations, homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried, and on birth control, by contrast, are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases.

According to Heneghan, the German bishops are reporting to the Vatican that it needs to move Catholic magisterial teaching about sexual morality away from a "prohibitive" approach to an "advisory" approach, in which the stress is less on telling people that they are wrong and more on assisting them to live sound moral lives in a rapidly changing culture. 

The German weekly Der Spiegel takes an in-depth look at the survey findings in a tripartite article this week (the quotation in the title of this posting is from Spiegel's article). Spiegel finds:

The outcome is devastating for the guardians of pure doctrine. Even the reactions of committed Catholics reflect disinterest, enmity and deep displeasure. Many can no longer relate to the old dogmas and feel left alone by the church. Even in conservative Bavaria, 86 percent of Catholics do not believe it is a sin to use the pill or condoms, both condemned by the church. 
A look into the congregations reveals that Rome could soon be facing a wave of protest unlike anything the Vatican has experienced in a long time. 
For most Catholics, the deep divide between everyday reality and doctrine is not a recent phenomenon. But popes have shown little interest in this reality. Pope Benedict XVI, in particular, turned his back on modern life and insisted on upholding ancient dogmas. 
Now the church is officially confirming its inner conflict, which creates the greatest challenge to Pope Francis in his young papacy. He must demonstrate whether he intends to heed the call of churchgoers and reform Catholicism, or stick to his amiable and extremely well-received, but ultimately ineffective gestures.

As Bob Shine notes for New Ways Ministry, part of the importance of the German bishops' public statement revealing how Catholics across Germany responded to the Vatican synod is this: "[T]his development shows that a national group of bishops are finally acknowledging" the huge disconnect that exists between what the church teaches in the area of sexual morality, and what lay Catholics actually think and do. 

As Terry Weldon points out at his Queering the Church blog, the clear, unavoidable conclusion to which the results of the Vatican survey are pointing in Germany and elsewhere is this: "Although the synod was not called with any intention of changing teaching, it seemed likely to me that it would demonstrate the need to revise it." 

And, of course, it's precisely as the recognition grows that church teaching in this area is not received by lay Catholics and its truth claims are therefore shaky for that reason, that one right-wing Catholic after another is writing articles these days to assert that Catholic teaching about any topic at all never has changed and simply cannot change. I'll be writing more about that counterfactual, absurdly ahistorical argument in a day or so.

(My thanks to Terry Weldon for having emailed me a copy of the Spiegel article earlier in the week.)

The graphic is from the Flickr photostream of Steven Shorrock.

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