Broad Feedback Sought Online

A questionnaire to gather feedback for next year’s Synod of Bishops on the family has been the source of some confusion since it was delivered to bishops’ conferences around the world in October. In preparation for the international meeting, the synod’s secretary general, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, sent out a preparatory document that included a 39-item questionnaire asking about the promotion and acceptance of Catholic teachings on marriage and the family and cultural and social challenges to those teachings.

The questionnaire sought information about divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, same-sex unions and contraception, and Archbishop Baldisseri requested that bishops seek widespread consultation. Some bishops have taken that request to mean that they should seek direct feedback from lay people. Around the world, some dioceses have forged ahead with the widest consultation imaginable, following the lead of the U.K. bishops’ conference, which posted the entire questionnaire online. Some provide the material in both English and Spanish. Some offer ways of submitting responses through the mail.

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The Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., created an online option for everyday Catholics to put in their views about the discussions bishops from around the world will have with Pope Francis at the synod in October 2014. Harrisburg Catholics are being encouraged to do some study of church teaching before they weigh in.

The archdioceses of Baltimore and Chicago and the Iowa dioceses of Davenport, Dubuque and Des Moines are among those with links to an online survey on their Web pages. Though some ask different background questions, those dioceses all use the wording of the questions provided by the Vatican.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese has a similar online survey, but in more user-friendly language. The introduction to the Philadelphia survey notes: “Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has authorized the use of an Internet-based instrument for local participation in this consultation in the broadest possible manner. This is not a poll or a survey on church teaching. Rather, this is a unique opportunity for the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to reflect and respond thoughtfully on serious challenges to family life and to marriage.”

In introducing Chicago’s survey page, Cardinal Francis E. George explained that for previous synods, he had always sent the preparatory questions to the various councils that advise him. “For this synod, a more ample consultation will be helpful and every Catholic in the archdiocese is therefore invited to reply to the questionnaire now available in English and Spanish.”

Baltimore’s Arch-bishop William E. Lori prefaced the survey by inviting active and inactive Catholics to participate “in this important conversation.”

Other dioceses are using a more focused approach, soliciting responses from pastors and advisory boards like presbyteral councils. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston said the questionnaire was on the agenda for his recent bimonthly meeting with priests who have been ordained five years or less and at the archdiocesan pastoral council.

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