November 1, 2013

Two remarkable developments this week end, as we honor our deceased People of God.

Joshua McElwee reported in the National Catholic Reporter, yesterday, that the Vatican has asked national bishops’ conferences around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll of Catholics asking for their opinions on church teachings about contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce. Remarkable! The spirit of Vatican II is alive once again in ancient Rome.

Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, who is the Secretary General of the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, has asked the world’s bishops to distribute the poll “immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.”

The poll’s questionnaire was sent on October 18th to the presidents of the world’s individual bishops’ conferences in preparation for the Vatican’s October 2014 synod on the “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” This is the first time Rome has asked for input from grass-roots Catholics, since the establishment of the synod system.

As NCR reports: Among topics bishops’ conferences are asked, in the Vatican document, to question their Catholic populations about are:

How the church’s teaching on “the value of the family” is understood today.

Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks.

“How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?”

How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for.

“What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”

Whether married couples have “openness” to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. “Is this moral teaching accepted?” it asks. “What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?”

Some conferences of bishops have responded immediately and creatively. The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, for example, has set up an online survey that Catholics in their countries can use to respond to the Vatican’s questions.

And in our United States? What has been the creative response of the USCCB? Another remarkable development.

McElwee reports that while Archbishop Baldisseri asked in his Vatican letter for wide consultation with the Catholic people, the American bishops have changed the focus.

It appears that American Catholic bishops see no need to consult their people. Apparently they still believe the nineteenth century Catholic adage that Father Knows Best. Remarkable!

An accompanying letter sent with the U.S. version of the Baldisseri Vatican document does not request that the American bishops undertake wide consultation in their dioceses! That letter, dated October 30, 2013, was sent from Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, the General Secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and only asks the U.S. bishops to provide their own observations.

As Msgr. Jenkins writes, according to documents published by NCR, “In his correspondence, Archbishop Baldisseri requests the observations of the members of the Conference regarding the attached preparatory documents and questionnaire that will provide a basis for the preparation….”


 So much for the voice of the People of God, so much for the Vatican II spirit of collegiality,

and so much for good old American democracy.

Sometimes our USCCB appears to act more like the old USSR……


19 thoughts on “USCCB to Vatican : In the USA Father Knows Best

  1. HMMMMM. Exciting that the Vatican is finally asking for input from The Church – extremely disappointing that the American Bishops still don’t understand that the People ARE the Church.

    1. Yes indeed. But maybe our bishops are afraid.

      The Catholic Church teaches that abortion, artificial contraception and homosexual activity are wrong. However, majorities of American Catholics have opinions on contraception and homosexuality that run counter to church teaching. Maybe that is why US bishops don’t want to consult them……..

      A Pew Research poll conducted in March 2013, just after Pope Francis’ election, found that three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (76%) say the church should permit birth control. About half (54%) of U.S. Catholics favor same-sex marriage, according to aggregated Pew Research data from this year, and just a third (33%) say homosexual behavior is a sin, according to a May survey.

      Views on abortion are more mixed, with combined surveys from 2011 through 2013 showing opinion is split among U.S. Catholics. About half (53%) of white Catholics say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41% say it should be illegal in all or most cases; among Hispanic Catholics, 43% say it should be legal in all or most cases, while 52% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

      A Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Connecticut) survey released October 4, 2013 found that 56% of Americans, 53% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly, and 65% of Catholics who attend Mass less frequently would support “a law in your state that would allow same-sex couples to get married.” Support was stronger among Catholics of ages 18-49 (64%) than ages 50-64 (62%) or 65+ (46%).

      According to the survey, 72% of Catholic women back same-sex marriage, while 49% of Catholic men do.

      The survey also found that 52% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly, and 66% who attend less frequently, favor the ordination of women to the priesthood. Support was stronger among Catholics of age 65+ (68%) than ages 50-64 (64%) or 18-49 (57%). By a slight (2%) margin, women are more likely to favor women’s ordination than men are.



  2. Welll it sounded like good news…until I had a look at the survey here in U.K. and also some of the . This will take you to the link for the survey.
    It may well be that your US bishops decided that most common and garden catholics would barely be able to understand the questions much less answer them. It reads like an exam paper for a degree level course in theology. One of the comments from readers said he’d lost the will to live a quarter of the way through. Even I will need to do some revision of CCRS and Vatican 2 etc to tackle it and most catholics here do not venture that far into their faith. They simple understand what feels right and what doesn’t.
    Also this survey seems designed more to find out information which may be used to continue PRESENT teaching than much to do with changes. Maybe your bishops have spotted this too?
    Whatever I intend to tackle it as not to do so is to pass up a chance to make our voices heard. It just may take a little more thinking how to word the responses to get across that we may need changes in what is taught by the Church not how it is put across.
    No wonder they advise you to download the questions before you attempt to answer them.
    Incidentally there seems to be only questions concerning marriage and the family and not other issues such as the role of women in the Church or indeed the role of homosexuals in respect of ordination. Or maybe I didn’t get anywhere near the end of the document?

    1. Thanks for your note. The survey is indeed a big and complex project and many will give up after writing just a few responses. The people who created the survey obviously know very little about composing surveys 🙂

      Nevertheless I think some reform organizations could help in the process….and I believe it is worth the effort.

      I am still disappointed that the USCCB could not respond (was afraid to respond) in some kind of creative way.




  3. Indeed Jack but it has only just come online here today by the look of things. Maybe they are biding their time to get a handle on what this is really about. As i say, it doesn’t read like a “tell us where you think we’re going wrong” type of exercise but more a ” Tell us what we can do to convince people that we are teaching the right stuff”- and get them to comply is implicated in that. I admit to feeling a little wary of the motives for this. Nevertheless I will complete a questionnaire even if it means ignoring the format of the question and being outspoken in my criticism. Your bishops may be wary of the way these questions are phrased too and wondering what the real purpose of it is?

  4. Here are two other relevant issues that may not be covered in the survey, whoever manages to fill it out: the fact that depending on the diocese and the region, between 50% and 90% of parents who present babies for Baptism are not married, and the fact that the new working definition of a Catholic who attends Mass regularly is once a month — in the past two weeks I’ve heard that both in Western Europe and in North America.

    1. Excellent observation as well…..use it for write-in observations. Really the ball is increasingly in OUR court… Jack


    2. Many thanks for that information, will try to include it in my response to the survey- if I ever plough through all this theological gobble de gook. Any other observations will be considered by you american brothers and sisters for inclusion in my reply. Maybe you will all get a chance to do your own survey response if you can manage to contact your bishops and ask for their reasons in not making this available to you?

  5. Nothing from George Pell, Sydney, Australia and I think that there will be none. George has never consulted anyone about anything. He knows best and so there.

  6. Perhaps this USCCB survey is the another NEW Curial Language Mess, brought by the same folks that imposed the new Latiglish Liturgy on all English speaking Catholics around the world?!

    1. That is possible but here I think it is a matter of institutional incompetence: the gentlemen (I doubt women were involved) were probably well-intentioned but know little about composing a survey and little about evaluating a survey. They should have asked professional help from Pew or from the statistics department at any open-minded Catholic university.

      1. Yes. I recall another survey conducyed Australia-wide several years ago. The questions were motherhood questions and had nothing to do with what was worrying to anyone. I fear that if any of the bishops have the courage to actually conduct a survey that the questions will avoid the real concerns people have.

      2. Indeed the questions in this survey also avoid the issues of concern by the way they are worded but, having just completed the survey, it/’s amazing what you can bring out by focusing and challenging the assumptions contained within the questions. Key words like “natural law” and “the family” also “anthropological” etc give a good foothold to tell it like you see it. It took most of the weekend what with writing it all out first ( out of ink on printer) and researching/revising information. Also its a challenge fitting it all in to 2000 characters per question but it is do-able.I managed to fit in most of our apparent concerns including womens ordination ( the question on other related issues) and even the call for updated new interpretation of scripture and Church history. Maybe it wasn’t what they wanted but its what they got.If anyone gets a chance, please do it and don’t be put off by the format or even the questions. We may not get another chance.

  7. Jack, this whole mess borders on depressing, what with the angry reactions of folks who don’t want such a survey, the coming meeting of the NCCG (National Conference of Catholic Geldings), the increasing lack of confidence in the integrity of bishops and more (although unacknowledged) demands for the removal of several of them, the continuing abusive management style of bishops. I believe the Holy Spirit us alive and involved.

    1. And after the revelations I’ve had today, you can add to that the fact that not all priests are informing their flock about the existence of the survey! When I told people about it the degree of total apathy was alarming. Another problem is also that here where I live not everyone has access to the internet and many older people are not computer literate anyway. It would have been helpful if people could have been offered another mode to respond- perhaps a paper form version which could have been handed out at church. At least I managed to get a man involved with the print up of the church newsletter to agree the importance of this and he is going to get the information out that way.He only heard of it himself through an online american friend. It seems the Holy Spirit has Her/His work cut out when so many of the faithful seem to be asleep.

Leave a Reply