Pope Francis Asks Global Catholics What We Think

CNS/Paul HaringIn an surprising move, this week Pope Francis issued a questionnaire of sorts to the world’s Catholics to find out what we think about issues related to the family. He wants to know what we think about contraception, same-sex unions, and communion for divorced and remarried couples.

The Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to distribute the survey “immediately and as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received,” according to a letter from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary of the Synod of Bishops. A copy of Baldisseri’s letter was obtained by National Catholic Reporter.

Many national bishops’ groups around the world already have their online web site up and running (eg https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FamilySynod2014).

This action by Pope Francis shows – once again – that he is not afraid of the People of God. The massive communications revolution means the Vatican can actually ask Catholic what they think (eg this is called sensum fidelium, the “sense of the faithful”).

As the Pope said in a recent interview, this does not mean “populism” and the Catholic church is not “voting” on these issues. But it does mean returning balance to the prophetic leadership of the church which requires intimate knowledge of the people of God and what their needs are.

One thing to note is that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to interpret the Pope’s request differently from other conferences around the world. Instead of going directly to Catholics in the pews, they decided their own opinion on these questions was sufficient. Then they back-tracked and said they’d use the “usual process.” As of yet, there is no questionnaire up on the USCCB web site. I’m waiting.

Here’s an excerpt from The Tablet:

In preparation for next year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which Pope Francis announced earlier this month, the Vatican has sent a questionnaire to the world’s bishops to disseminate among priests and people.

The responses to the questionnaire will be analysed as part of the preparation for the synod, to take place from 5 to 19 October 2014 on the theme “Pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”.

The questions, which were sent out by Italian Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, cover some of the most contentious issues in Church. The questionnaire asks what kinds of questions divorced and remarried couples ask about the sacraments and whether a simplification of the annulment process could help “solving the problems of the persons involved”.

It also quizzes local churches what pastoral attention can be given to people who are in same-sex partnerships and what can be done to help the adopted children of such unions to be formed in the faith.

Catholics Discuss Ordination of Women: Do I Call Her ‘Father’?

In December, the National Catholic Reporter wrote an editorial calling for discussion on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. (The Vatican has forbidden this discussion to be had by anyone in the institutional church or on any church-owned properties. This means no priest can talk about it and no discussion can be had in Catholic schools, universities, or church basements.)

As any teen counselor can tell you, the best way to ensure a conversation spreads like wildfire is to drive it underground.

The National Catholic Reporter (part of the Catholic faithful, not a Vatican-affiliated institution) had such a huge response from readers to their December editorial that NCR followed it with a series of articles on the history of church authority, roles of women, and theology of ordination. (The links to the articles are below.)

I extend an invitation to non-Catholics Christians (pardon the generalization) to read these articles, as well as to Catholics. Much of the content focuses on our common Christian heritage (eg before the Reformation).

Protestants, evangelicals, and Anabaptist tend to cede history before the 1500s to Catholics. Please, don’t do that.

Contemporary Catholics need our Protestant kinfolk to fully claim the early church and the first 1500 years of our common history. (And I dare say, with the rise of “complementarianism,” not a few Protestants need to reclaim their history of women in leadership.)

Here is the NCR series:

“In April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded unanimously: “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” In further deliberation, the commission voted 12-5 in favor of the view that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women, and 12-5 in favor of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ’s original intentions.”–Editorial: Ordination of women would correct an injustice (12/3/12)

“The account in Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6 of the apostles choosing seven men to take care of table service is usually considered the origin of the office of deacon, yet no one in the story is called diakonos and the apostles appoint them for the diakonia of the table so that the apostles can devote themselves to the diakonos of prayer and the word. All perform diakonos of different kinds.”–Early women leaders: from heads of house churches to presbyters (NCR, 1/18/13)

“The Council of Paris in 829 made it extremely clear that it was the bishops who were allowing women to minister at the altar. Women certainly did distribute Communion in the 10th, 11th and perhaps the 12th centuries. Texts for these services exist in two manuscripts of this period. All of this changed over roughly a hundred-year period between the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 13th. For many different cultural reasons, women were gradually excluded from ordination. First, many roles in the church ceased to be considered as ordained — most importantly, abbots and abbesses. Powerful women in religious orders went from being ordained to laity. Second, canon lawyers and then theologians began to debate whether women could be ordained to the priesthood or diaconate.”–The meaning of ordination and how women were gradually excluded by Gary Macy (NCR, 1/16/12)

“The exercise of doctrinal authority throughout much of the first millennium presupposed several basic convictions. First, the doctrine that the bishops taught pertained to public revelation. There was no sense that bishops received some secret knowledge available only to them. Indeed such a view, known as Gnosticism, had been roundly condemned. Second, what the bishops taught was not foreign to the faith of the whole church. In apostolic service to their communities, the bishops received, verified and proclaimed the apostolic faith that all the baptized in their churches prayed and enacted. The apostolic faith consciousness of the whole people of God would eventually be referred to as the sensus fidelium.”–Richard Gaillardetz, Putting the church’s shifts in spheres of authority in historical perspective (NCR, 2/4/13)