The Vatican’s survey on family matters

November 07, 2013
Source: District of the USA

What is the true purpose of the Vatican's recent international parish survey on sensitive modern issues related to the family?

Pastor's Corner for Sunday, November 10

The Vatican is taking the unusual step of conducting a worldwide survey on how parishes deal with sensitive issues such as birth control, divorce and gay marriage, seeking input ahead of a major meeting on the family next year.[1] It is impossible to know what measures will be taken based on this survey which is original on quite a few scores.

An original survey

The document’s introduction speaks of issues which “were unheard of until a few years ago,” including single-parent families, polygamy, interfaith marriages and “forms of feminism hostile to the church.” Surrogate motherhood is lamented in the document as “wombs for hire,” and the survey cites as a new challenge “same-sex unions between persons who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children.”

The Pope’s emphasis on reforming the Vatican bureaucracy and boosting the participation of local church leaders and lay people is certainly a novelty, and open to speculation as to whether this survey is merely consultative or a de facto referendum of the majority with power of decision over the Magisterium, which is to be the plain echo of the vox populi. The latter case would be the modernist scenario of Church teaching whereby the Church ‘leaders’ are simply followers of the ‘truths’ offered from the inner consciousness of the ‘People of God’ who have the real experience of the divine.

The survey asks what “pastoral attention” can be given to those in a same-sex union and to their adopted children, “what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?” May we suggest that hard facts make for bad laws, and those who have throw away the natural law are hardly on the path of salvation.

The survey offers a pastoral approach but is not sending a very coherent message. Here are a few examples of this dichotomy:

  • The questions ask how better to prepare young people for marriage, the effectiveness of natural birth control methods, and on how to support the “journey of faith” of divorced and remarried people who are excluded from the sacraments. However, less than two weeks ago the Vatican confirmed that Catholics who have remarried after divorce are barred from receiving communion.
  • Francis has lamented that newlyweds seem to think marriage isn’t a lifelong commitment but just a “provisional” one. At the same time, he has said the church process for annulling marriages isn’t working and must be reviewed.
  • The pope has urged pastors to focus on being merciful and welcoming rather than emphasizing only such divisive issues as abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and become more merciful, or risk the collapse of its entire moral edifice “like a house of cards”. At the same time, he has made clear his support for traditional marriage and opposition to abortion.

What is the real purpose of this survey?

Is the Vatican surveying general acceptance of Catholic teaching among Catholics? The results have been given by polling organizations which have shown a steady plummet since the 1960s:

only 34 percent of Catholics are saying that homosexual behavior is sinful, a precipitous drop since 2003 when it was just under half."

Sherry Weddell, in her recent book, Forming Intentional Disciples: the Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, also polled U.S. parishes to find out the level of adherence to Catholic teaching in the pews. “To our astonishment, we have received the same answer over and over: ‘Five per cent.’” Weddell also canvassed Catholics who attended Mass frequently and discovered that only about 60 percent believe in a “personal God”.

Is the shadow of Cardinal Martini lurking behind this survey? The late cardinal whom Pope Francis himself recently called “prophetic,” and “a father for the whole Church” is still regarded as a leading voice for the “progressivist” wing of the Catholic Church.

Martini had opposed the Church on homosexuality, artificial contraception, female ordination, the use of condoms to prevent AIDS transmission, physician assisted suicide and embryonic research. Martini said that with the churches, convents and seminaries emptying:

The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation."


1 Cardinal Dolan’s letter, the memorandum sent by USCCB to the United States’ bishops, and the Synod of Bishops’ document, “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization”, can be viewed here.