Pope Francis Wants to Know What You Think
by Thomas Plastow SJ
In October 2014, the Church will be holding an extraordinary synod of bishops to discuss matters related to family life. It always takes at least a year to get a synod organised, but something new has been added to the preparations this time around: an international survey of Catholics at parish level. There has never been such an open appeal in modern times, and we would be foolish to miss out on the opportunity to make a lively contribution.
The document from Rome contains 38 specific questions on topics such as: difficulties in living Christian family life, cohabitation, contraception, same-sex unions, polygamy, single-parent families and feminism. Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, has asked local bishops’ conferences to distribute the survey “as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received”. (You can find out more on the Vatican website.)
Bishops are not used to canvassing the opinions of the lay people. Many have seen their role as giving their people the Church’s official teachings. But Pope Francis appears to be looking for ways to reach out to those who may have fallen away from those teachings. Some bishops will be reluctant to send the views of their people to Rome if those views are not in accordance with what Rome has taught up till now. Likewise, many lay people will be very cautious of writing anything that they think their bishop won’t want to see in print. We Catholics have become very good at self-censorship! There is nothing to fear from a survey. Theology doesn’t change with the mood of the public, but the way in which the Church ministers to people can only improve once the Synod of Bishops hears about the challenges being faced by families and individuals.
It will be interesting to see how the various bishops’ conferences “roll out” the international survey. At the time of writing, the bishops of the United States have not yet acted, while those of England and Wales have already got an on-line questionnaire up and running. In South Africa, the Archdiocese of Cape Town has already begun to question members of the parish pastoral councils. One hopes that it will not stop there, but that ordinary Catholics, and even disaffected Catholics, will get a chance to have their say.
What are you going to do in your diocese, and when? We cannot relax now that summer is here, and do nothing until February. The Roman Curia wants bishops to reply next month, and our bishops’ conference is saying that now is the time to write to your local bishop with your views. Go to the SACBC website to find the questions and get your parish and deanery motivated (or find them attached).
The Pope is asking us to say what we think. Let’s not say that we did not have the opportunity to make our voices heard.