Last Updated on November 30, 2013
On Thursday, October 31, several media outlets confirmed that Pope Francis and the Vatican recently decided to seek feedback from the lay faithful on a number of pastoral concerns in preparation for 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Several questions revolved around the treatment of divorced couples and members of the gay community in the context of parish life.
The American bishops decided to let each diocese decide how they would obtain this key information. As of now, various approaches have been taken across the country.
Therefore, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has decided to go ahead and start collecting some information from American Catholics. We placed the survey on a new project website PapalSurvey.com. The survey is available in both English and Spanish.
Since our launch on November 1, we've had over 4,000 persons respond to the survey. The survey is open until December 15, 2013. We will also be allowing participants to fill out a a more in-depth and thorough survey beginning on Monday, December 2.
We will be collecting the information, developing a summary document and presenting the summary and raw information to the Holy See on December 31, 2013 in preparation for the Synod.
At the time, we will also present the results every presiding bishop in the United States. We hope our information will be help as we think we have created a great model for how bishops can collect this information for persons in their dioceses.
We're exciting to work with the entire Church and her leaders in this exciting opportunity allowing the lay faithful in the United States to have unprecedented involvement in the upcoming synod.
Below is some broad stroke themes we're seeing from our respondents to date. Following that, we've posted from selected responses from surveys. These individuals gave us permission to publish these remarks under pseudonyms.
1) So many of our respondents have a clear desire to find a space for themselves and others within the Catholic Church. In short, these people want to be Catholic.
2) Most of our respondents think that the Church does an adequate job on teaching about marriage and family life, but that the scope of this education is too narrow. Many responded that they oftentimes only learn so much about the Church's teaching regarding sex in marriage at the expense of other teachings. One respondent put it this way: "I know where the Church stands on the role of sex in my marriage, but I also want to know what her wisdom is on how I ought to love my husband when the initial excitement of the marriage dies."
3) A large number respondents also noted that there is a lot of resources to prepare for marriage, but that those resources tend to dwindle for people after the wedding. A lot of people want to be able to be formed by the Church on how to strengthen marriages during the difficult times or during the "sophomore slumps" of their relationships.
4) Our respondents gave their local Church communities a mixed response on outreach to divorced and separated persons. Many divorced persons spoke of their difficulties in finding space in parish life. However, others gave great testimonies about how priests stood by their side during these difficult times. One woman recounted how a priest would pray with her diligently for an hour every week during her divorce. She said his efforts were heroic: "In a time of great distress, he gave me the comfort of Jesus and the encouragement of the Church."
5) Our respondents gave their local Church communities a mixed response on outreach to gay persons and people in same sex relationships. Of particular note were the responses of the twenty or so openly gay and lesbian persons who responded to our survey. A man recounted how after he became aware of his sexual orientation in his early twenties, he was from his parish community. But that same man found a space in another parish with a priest who helped his through his difficulties of being a gay Catholic.
6) Our respondents gave varied responses to the question of how the Church ought to respond to Pope Francis's call to create a Church of mercy and a Church of welcome. So many, however, gave a consistent, clarion call to Pope Francis and his bishops to pursue the effort of creating a Church where mercy reigns supreme and whose reach extends to every person.
Margaret, 65, Chicago, Illinois
"After all our children finished high school a few years ago, my husband and I began to realize that our initial love for each other had died. We had focused so much on raising our children that we forgot about the relationship that created them. We were really worried that we might not be able to stay together, so we approached our parish priest about it. He offered us his prayers, his counseling and the resources of the parish. He got us in contact with a lay marriage counselor who helped us recreate our love for each other. The priest and counselor's efforts were heroic. They showed us how to love each other again."
Kristen, 34, Norman, Oklahoma
"Our parish did a good job preparing me and my husband for our wedding. We went on a retreat with other engaged couples and learned a lot about the Church teachings on what it means to be married. However, a few years after we got married we experienced a "sophomore slump" in our relationship. Our parish wasn't that helpful in getting us through that period. We were prepared well for the wedding, but not for the ups and downs of married life. We went to an evangelical church nearby to get some help and found it. It would have been great to instead find that kind of help in our own Catholic parish."
Lance, 46, Amherst, Massachusetts
"Two decades ago, I came out as gay to friends and family and to my parish priest. Friends and family had a mixed reaction, but I was especially hurt by the reaction of my priest. He and I had been friends for years and his response to me was basically you need to change before God can accept you and love you. It stunned me. I hadn't even entered into a relationship. I had been single since college. I spent several years away from the Church. But luckily I found a priest and a community who accepted me and gave me a chance to practice my faith again."