Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NCR Report on Vatican Questionnaire in U.S.: Only One-Third of Dioceses Made It Available

For those following the discussion of the questionnaire that the Vatican asked bishops around the world to make available to Catholic laypersons in advance of the Synod on the Family, National Catholic Reporter has just published a valuable report by Michael O'Loughlin. NCR reports that it has done an exhaustive study of U.S. dioceses to find out what percentage made the questionnaire available to the laity, and what percentage has subsequently reported to lay Catholics on the responses of those who answered the questionnaire.

O'Louglin summarizes some key finds of this study:

・Just over a third of the nearly 200 Catholic dioceses (i.e., 78 dioceses)* in the U.S. gave lay Catholics an opportunity to respond to the questionnaire.  
・Of that number, about a dozen have reported the results of their surveys and consultations to the public. 
・The results made available online up to now suggest "that American Catholics have questions about the church's teachings on a range of family-related issues."

NCR contributor Ken Briggs responds to O'Loughlin's report by asking why, if Rome wanted the faithful surveyed, two-thirds of U.S. bishops chose to ignore Rome's lead. His surmisal: since every report we've seen up to now from bishops around the world who did survey the faithful confirms that Catholic laypeople strongly reject magisterial teaching on contraception and want a more positive pastoral approach to both gay and divorced Catholics, why bother?

Why bother creating problems for themselves, Briggs suggests many bishops may have concluded, by giving lay Catholics yet another venue to express dissatisfaction with magisterial teaching about these matters? He writes,

The church survey therefore confirms the obvious. Any bishop who hasn't been confined to a space capsule for the past 25 years understands this dissent whether or not he admits it. If he is among the few who want change, such findings might bolster his cause. But most don't. Were I among them, why would I stir up a new round of protest?

In fact, in the long run, Briggs concludes, this Vatican survey may have succeeded in demonstrating to lay Catholics only what we have already long known: that we don't have any effective voice in developing or testing church teaching--that we simply don't count, when it comes to setting the course for our church: 

The survey's existence as a means of rehearsing the old arguments over who decides and whether laity count far exceeds its unremarkable results.

On reports about the questionnaire results issued by the Irish dioceses of Dublin and Tuam, see Sarah MacDonald at The Tablet, who notes that both reports indicate that there is a sizable "gap between Church teaching and practice" among Irish Catholics, when it comes to issues of sexual ethics. In Germany now, there is, as Christa Pongratz-Lippitt reports for NCR, a growing rift among bishops as several bishops--most recently, Stephan Ackermann of Trier and Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg--state bluntly that Catholic teaching on issues of sexual ethics simply has to change, since lay Catholics in many places frankly do not "receive" this teaching any longer.

In Jerry Slevin's view, the situation in German Catholicism is opening the door for Pope Francis to finish the reformation of the church begun by Martin Luther. As he argues, the fact that key German bishops are calling for a "sensible reconsideration" of magisterial teaching on contraception, divorce, and homosexuality seems to place the catechism that John Paul II and Benedict mandated for the whole church "up for grabs." And if ordination of women appears on the horizon, Luther may have the last word.

The lesson Lauren Boyle draws from the widespread--and very public--rejection of the magisterial stance on contraception, women's ordination, and same-sex marriage: as one man, Pope Francis is incapable of changing the Catholic church. The obligation to effect change resides with lay Catholics.

And my question in response: how? When all power resides exclusively in the hands of an ordained elite determined not to listen to lay Catholics . . . ? And when, as Ken Briggs notes, an ostensible exercise in listening becomes only another way for the ordained elite to drive home the lesson that it and only it counts . . . ?

I suppose I should say, How short of rebellion? Or, How short of going on living our own lives as Catholics while simply ignoring our pastoral "leaders"? Which seems to be a choice many of us have long since been forced to make, doesn't it?

*In an article commenting on O'Louglin's report, Dennis Coday gives this figure as 76 dioceses. Coday's article has links to various diocesan reports on the survey results in those dioceses.

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