Monday, February 24, 2014

More Reports in Preparation for Vatican Synod on the Family: Spain, Japan, Diocese of Westminster, England, United States

As a new work week begins, I want to mention a few more reports that have recently been issued summarizing the response of lay Catholics in various parts of the world to the Vatican questionnaire on issues including contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce, as the Vatican prepares for the Synod on the Family. At Iglesia Descalza, Rebel Girl offers a translation of a recent article in the Spanish journal El Periódico reporting on the response of Spanish Catholics to the questionnaire.

El Periódico notes that, under the leadership of arch-conservative Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco, the Spanish bishops have dragged their feet on surveying the faithful, as Pope Francis requested. The bishops have, however, collected reports from dioceses throughout Spain and will send a "national summary" to the Vatican.

Meanwhile, the Catalonian group by Església Plural and Religión Digital in Madrid made the Vatican questionnaire available to lay Catholics. El Periódico's report is based on the results of these groups' surveys, which find that there is a "schism in Spain between grassroots Catholics and official doctrine on the family and sexual morality."

As every other survey of lay Catholics whose results have been released up to now while the Catholic hierarchy prepares for the Synod on the Family has found, Spanish Catholics reject magisterial teaching about contraception and about sexual matters in general, since, as one respondent to the questionnaire states, magisterial teaching is a "compendium of absurd prohibitions proposed by people who, in theory, never have had to face these issues." 

With regard to the question of same-sex marriage, Església Plural reports that a group of university professors and married priests responding to the Vatican questionnaire note that the Spanish bishops have encouraged public demonstrations opposing Spain's law permitting same-sex marriage, in which some church officials have taken to the streets, "making clamorous statements that are far from the Gospel and showing an absolute lack of mercy and Christian feeling."

Iglesia Descalza also summarizes the report of the Catholic bishops of Japan, about which I spoke briefly this past weekend. The document (pdf) is available in both English and Japanese at the website of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan. The report notes that Japanese Catholics ignore most magisterial teaching about sexuality including the teaching about contraception, which they consider "irrelevant to their lives."

This is so because, as the report explains, 

Often when Church leaders cannot present convincing reasons for what they say, they call it "natural law" and demand obedience on their say-so. This has brought the whole concept of natural law into disrepute: "If it is natural, why do people need to be taught it?"

Regarding same-sex marriage, the report finds that there is no major trend in Japan to introduce civil marriage for same-sex couples. Instead, there is a general trend throughout Japanese society away from any kind of marriage.

I noted a number of times last week that the bishops of England, Wales, and Ireland (Scotland, as well) have decided not to share the results of the survey administered in response to the Vatican questionnaire with lay Catholics. However, Catherine Pepinster reports for The Tablet that the diocese of Westminster will be an exception to that rule: this diocese has stated that it will make its survey results available before the end of February. According to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, a brief summary of diocesan findings, which he describes as a "reflection," will be offered to the public. 

In the United States this past week, several groups--the American Catholic Council, Call to Action, CORPUS, Dignity USA, and FutureChurch--have set up a website called My Catholic Family whose purpose is, the site says, to assure that lay voices will be heard as the Synod on the Family is convened. This new site makes available the results of the survey conducted by these and other groups including Voice of the Faithful, which VOTF released last week. The VOTF report on behalf of the various groups is here, and and executive summary of the report is here (both pdf files).

None of the findings of this U.S. report will, I suspect, surprise most folks. The report finds that 76% of American Catholics have serious reservations about the magisterial teaching regarding contraception, for instance. 37% of respondents found their dioceses actively hostile to marriage equality, and 35% of respondents said that their dioceses are hostile towards and condemning of same-sex couples. 

A persistent theme of respondents throughout the report: Give us pastors who are pastors. As the summary section of the report states bluntly, "In keeping with several of the questions’ call for pastoral suggestions, it is clear that there is a perceived urgent need for more pastoral care to be given to those in separated, divorced, remarried and same-sex unions."

And as the report concludes,

However, if we were to try to capture what the respondents have said in one sentence, we turn to voice of Pope Francis when he wrote, 
"The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel." (Evangelii Gaudium, #114) 
If there were one near-universal hope of the over 16,000 respondents to this Survey, it would be that this vision of the church would become a pastoral reality.

To which I say a hearty amen. And: You can't effectively proclaim good news until you live the good news you seek to proclaim--live it in your connection to other members of the body of Christ.

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