Vatican Seeks ‘Widespread’ Input On Marriage, Family Life Issues

A 'manifestation' against the legalization of same-sex marriage in France in May 2013

Bishops around the world are being asked to take a realistic look at the situation of families under their care and at how effective pastoral and educational programs have been at promoting church teaching on sexuality, marriage and family life. The preparatory document for the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, which will be held in October 2014, ends with 38 questions about how church teaching is promoted, how well it is accepted and ways in which modern people and societies challenge the Catholic view of marriage and family.

Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, asked bishops to distribute the document and questionnaire “immediately as widely as possible” to deaneries and parishes “so that input from local sources can be received.” The responses will be summarized and returned to the Vatican by the end of January. Archbishop Baldisseri, encouraging even wider consultation, did not specify how bishops should seek input, and it is not clear yet how bishops in the United States will proceed, but the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales put the questionnaire online in late October for anyone to answer. In a statement to The National Catholic Reporter, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spokesperson, Helen Osman, said, “It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.”

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The questionnaire covers some of the church’s most contentious contemporary issues, seeking to discover the questions divorced and remarried couples have about Communion and reconciliation and whether a simplification of the annulment process would help toward “solving the problems of the persons involved.”

The synod organizers ask the bishops to estimate the percentage of local Catholics living together without being married, the percentage of those divorced and remarried, and the proportion of children and adolescents in their dioceses who are living in families in those situations. It asks how “accepted” is the church’s teaching on contraception and also touches on the status and nature of pastoral attention to people who are in same-sex partnerships. It surveys bishops about the legal status of same-sex unions in their local area and church efforts to defend traditional marriage but also asks what kind of “pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live” in same-sex unions and what can be done to transmit the faith to their adopted children. Other concerns expressed by Archbishop Baldisseri in his introduction to the survey include interreligious marriages, “the single-parent family,” polygamy, “a [cultural] presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary” and “forms of feminism hostile to the Church.”

Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy, forgiveness and not judging others and his specific comments on helping divorced and civilly remarried couples who cannot receive Communion have encouraged many Catholics to believe changes in church teaching on such matters may be in store. The document said, however, “the teaching of the faith on marriage is to be presented in an articulate and efficacious manner so that it might reach hearts and transform them in accordance with God’s will.” Church teaching always has been clear that marriage is a lifelong bond between one man and one woman open to having and educating children, it said, and the synod’s goal will be “to communicate this message with greater incisiveness.”

The preparatory document specifically mentions modern contributions to church teaching, including the Second Vatican Council’s defense of the dignity of marriage and family, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on fidelity and procreation in marriage and Blessed John Paul II’s teaching on God’s plan for married love.

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Michael Barberi
4 years 9 months ago
This issue has been vetted in another article by Fr. Martin. My continuing question is this: how can parish priests (and diocesan bishops) obtain accurate answers to the percent of parishioners who are divorced and remarried; the percent of married couples that have received the teaching on birth control (e.g., practice NFP and not contraception); the percent living in same-sex unions; the percent cohabiting; the proportion of children living in families who are divorced and remarried….etc? My parish has 1 priest and 2500 parishioners. Without a parishioner survey, answers that the Vatican expects on these issues for the 2014 Synod on the Family will be highly misleading and most likely highly inaccurate. There is little time to ascertain this information because responses are due by December 31st and each Conference of Bishops must return them to the Vatican by the end of January 2014. Compounding the problem is the fact that the answers are to be handwritten on the questionnaire, and the questions seem to be addressed to priests/bishops by the way they are phrased. Additionally, I also wonder if theologians are being requested to provide input. I hope all the voices of the people of God will be heard and summarized accurately to reflect the status of the question about these important issues facing the Church and families today across the world.
4 years 9 months ago
Simple! Postpone the Synod. Take the next two years or so to do a really good canvassing of the Catholic faithful. The wonderful effort by Pope Francis to do such a wide ranging query is kind of dead in the water. There needs to be a "scientific" or at least a credibly objective summary of what people in the pews think. There is an assumption that the staffers are in place to do all this work. Please! Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that this is a huge task and needs to be thoroughly planned and organized.
Michael Barberi
4 years 9 months ago
Jack, You are 100% correct. I spent a significant number of years as a senior partner in worldwide consulting firm and was involved in many large sophisticated studies for large organizations, many involving survey design and analysis. If I had to give a grade to the survey questionnaire and overall survey approach/methodology, it would be an F. Perhaps this survey will be turned into an electronic format, with multiple choice answers that span the spectrum based on the findings from many previous lay surveys conducted by Georgetown University and the Catholic University of America. Given the importance of this Snod on the Family, it would be highly disappointing, if not irresponsible, if what is reported was not accurate.
Edward Burton
4 years 9 months ago
Recently in an OSF meeting we had occasion to reflect on same sex marriage, and one point that came up seemed to be insightful ... The opposite sides of the question seem in fact to reflect an undiscussed question: is same sex attraction hard wired into the brains and/or bodies of those affected? or is it a matter of some level of conscious or unconscious free choice. I have met one young lady who is of same sex orientation, whom I know from earlier conversations when she was reacting severely to sexual abuse by an adult male when she was very small. Yet there are many women of same sex orientation who were not abused as children. Anyway, in our group meeting I think we agreed that an opinion on the reason for orientation affected opinions on what course of action to take, if any.
G Miller
4 years 9 months ago
Homosexuality is part of God's plan because it exists in nature. Sexuality is a phenotype. Scientists have mapped two areas that correlate with homosexuality p20 to q22 on Chromosome 8 and q28 on the X Chromosome. (cf: Dean H Hamer, Living With Our Genes.) The mapping of the human genome has demonstrated that the genetic component is stronger than the environmental component and the probability in this case by 10,000 to 1. The Church is repeating its terrible history from the 16th and 17th centuries. Back then the Pope wanted to argue that the Earth was at the center of the Universe. He even punished Galileo for his findings. Now no Pope would argue that the Earth is the center of the universe. If he did he would be a laughingstock. The data is there. It demonstrates that the Church's teachings in this area of human sexuality are deeply flawed. The torment of gays and lesbians, particularly by those in the Church who are closet cases, must end. The future of the Church depends upon it ending its backward and repressive ways. People with brains do not tolerate stupid policy. Instead they leave the Church and move on to institutions with more competent theologies. Will it take the a poll showing that there are more ex-Catholics in this country than actual practicing Catholics to foment change? Before Pope Francis, that is where things were headed. Now at least reason has a fighting chance in the Church. Pope Francis is right when he says "who am I to judge?" His background in chemistry and his scientific training allow him to see things in a more analytical light. And for that I am grateful.
Michael Cobbold
4 years 9 months ago
"Homosexuality is part of God's plan because it exists in nature." So does epilepsy. So do a lot of things regarded as unfortunate or worse. That something "exists in nature" is also problematic because the concept of nature has such varied applications. Even if that is not a relevant objection, the problem in arguing from scientific data is, that such data are value-free - they do not, and cannot, give any guidance as to whether a particular use of them is morally good or morally bad. If the majority of people on Earth were gay, that would not settle the moral issue - it would simply be a fact for the Church to take into account, & to discern the meaning of. It would not show that being gay was morally right, or tolerable, or wrong. Unless, that is, one believes that the majority (or the minority) is right.
G Miller
4 years 9 months ago
Clearly you were a liberal arts major. Here is a list of things that exist in nature: stars, planets, trees, reptiles, people, chromosomes. Very simply "it is what it is" and it exists IN nature. It is a chromosome. Organisms use chromosomes to store information. They are tightly wound like ancient scrolls and work miraculously in a sort of four dimensional way. Homosexuality is not an evil and it is not a disease. Five percent of the population worldwide is gay. Epilepsy does not occur with that kind of frequency in the population. Epilepsy did not bring us the statue of David but a gay man created that piece of art and many others owned by the Vatican. Epilepsy did not bring us the computer but Alan Turing, who was put to death because he was gay, did bring us these marvelous machines. You should go to Reconciliation for calling what is a gift from God a disease. It exists in nature and it is in the fabric of humanity. It is a conserved trait since it seems to be with us throughout our history and would appear to go back to our earliest ancestors. Honestly, you appear to be no different than those who see our species as a mixture of races. There is no genetic basis for the concept of race. Race was a concept developed by small brains like yours that seek to divide our species with trifling differences. There are merely 7 billion people alive on this planet with a mixture of phenotypes all of those were created by God. And all of us are loved fully by that same God, gay or straight, black or white, with or without epilepsy or another disease.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 9 months ago
Gee Miller - you really are not understanding Nature or Morality. Dean Hammer makes lots of statistical associations between gene frequency and various conditions, including alcoholism and addiction. Even if they rise to a predisposition (a lot of assumptions to get there), none could say a word about morality. For example, we know that men are predisposed to be more violent than women. The predisposition is much stronger than any non-heterosexual sexual appetite. That in no way justifies the violence. We know that many unsavory behaviors are predisposed by one's genes. One does not say alcoholism or pedophilia "is a gift from God" or "is what it is" just because there it appears in nature. We still see it as something that needs to be treated. We see it as something wrong. If you wish to find moral sanction for homosexuality, you will have to look elsewhere, as you will not find it in science, in the natural law or in Catholicism. Why not try the Unitarians or even the Episcopalians, who are always trying to keep up with the Zeitgeist. As regards the need for Reconciliation, we all need that, including the self-righteous (like yourself) who think only conservative Christians sin.
G Miller
4 years 9 months ago
Hamer is a great scientist. He invented the SV40 vector. Hamer's is a geneticist. He did exactly what geneticist would do: analyze the data and begin to make sense of the three billion nucleic acid residues that code for a human being. And as always, conservatives like you want to automatically classify homosexuality as a disease and compare it to alcoholism or some other unfortunate health condition. It isn't a disease. Multiple fields of science see and teach this. Most religious professionals know this and act, unlike you, like Jesus would, and accept gays as human beings and treat them with respect. Homosexuality will not shorten my life. Alcoholics tend to live shorter lives as do people with diseases like cancer. There are no absolutes and if you know the First Principle and Foundation you would know they are not necessary for our missions. (cf. SpEx 23) And if you want to run and scream around the room saying "HIV," please note that there are more than 34 million people on the planet living with the disease. Most are not gay. Then, after you get done mis-titling homosexuality a disease, you back that malarkey with some mental masturbation called Natural Law. Natural Law has nothing to do with Nature. Natural Law is all about philosophical framing and it's the intellectual equivalent of the shill in a carnival tent show. You make two or three presuppositions and then say "it stands to reason." (Without those presuppositions, it wouldn't stand to reason.) That's all Natural Law is. Nothing more. There is no data. There is no proof. There is limited observation. There is nothing but empty words with a nice title from the Marketing department to make it sound official. The biggest presupposition of all that undermines Natural Law is that everything in Creation fits into nice tidy categories. Luckily God doesn't always color within the lines that we see (cf Isaiah 55:8) and that is what makes science fun. In science, we cannot run and hide behind "it stands to reason" statements. We observe. We collect data. We analyze the data. We draw inferences and propose further experiments to try and topple our null hypothesis. It's not easy. It gets messy. If the experimental design is flawed, if the data collection is questionable, then those studies tend to not be published. If they are published they tend to be refuted when others cannot reproduce them. The Church is wrong just like was when it taught that the Earth was the center of the universe. How many hundreds of years did it take to clean up that mess? The data that homosexuals are part of the human family is there. Brighter minds will prevail. And I will be delighted when the Church catches up to the present. The problem is the Church won't do that until the future is comfortably in the past. Just like always. (oh but then I haven't factored in Pope Francis....it could be sooner rather than later now that we have a scientist in the Vatican!)
Tim O'Leary
4 years 9 months ago
Gee Miller - I take it from your rantings that you are not a scientist. Dean Hamer may have been able to keep his gay activism and lifestyle out of his research but the failure of other scientists to repeat his studies is a major concern. His original methods were widely criticized for not being adequately controlled. Moreover, Dean himself has said he never argued that a single gene determines homosexuality, and he believes that the categories of homosexual/heterosexual are too simplistic. But all of this is beside the point. Do you really think you can determine something is morally good by a randomized controlled trial or a test tube assay or a genetic test? If I take the emotionalism out of your piece, I think your claim is that anything discovered in the genes could be accepted as good (at least if you like it, and bad if you don't). And maybe you think that anything that doesn't shorten life can't be wrong (maybe, you haven't looked up the incidence of venereal disease by sexual practice recently). But, even if it extended life, that would not in itself settle the moral question. As to your philosophical denials, you are contradicting yourself - trying to argue that homosexual activities (including anal sex???) are natural and good while simultaneously denying natural law. To give you one new example, you may have heard that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) redefined pedophilia as a sexual "orientation" in May of this year, in its fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). While I think this is crazy and an abuse of their profession, it still in no way diminishes or mitigates the immorality of adults having sex with children.
G Miller
4 years 8 months ago
Since when are you on a first name basis with a man as intelligent as Hamer? Of course Hamer never said that there was a single gene controlling heterosexual or homosexual behaviour. That has to be a misquote from another liberal arts major that doesn't know what a water molecule looks like. Hamer pointed to two chromosomes not one gene. That work has been reproduced in at least three other studies. Do you actually know the difference between a gene and a chromosome or will you have to go to Wikipedia to learn about that as well? What about coding and non-coding regions? Epigenetics? Do you have any clue? I suspect not. I am a scientist and have worked in research labs since I was seventeen. I know of what I speak. One does not need a randomized trial to determine the goodness in this case. Again -- homosexuality is there in the genetic makeup of our species. It is a phenotype. Consequently, it by-passes the need for your little purity test because it is part of God's plan. Sexual orientation is there just like gender, in the chromosomes. And the APA, if it is actually applying that term to pedophilia is not making a value judgment, it is talking about a human proclivity. It is a scientific use of the term, it is certainly not an endorsement of pedophilia it is merely describing it. And well, there you go again, trying to link homosexuality to pedophilia. Will you never learn!! Or are you really just a Fox News Parrot sqwaking the same garbage over and over and over?? And thanks for making me laugh by using the term "venereal" it's almost as ancient as the rest of your thinking. The proper term is STI for sexually transmitted infection. And STIs afflict gay and straight. If anything is causing gays to live less long it is being forced to a life in the shadows and their lack of access to information, testing, and medicine. This is most prevalent in the Southern US -- all those conservative states conserving the Neanderthal way. (See the CDC's HIV distribution maps for proof.) At the heart of all of that is being rejected by society at large. The closet kills and your finger prints are all over it. Have a nice time explaining that away to God when it says in Scripture that Jesus spent so much time with outcasts from society. There was a study done that exposed straight men and gay men to the same stimuli while imaging their brains. Gay men's brains lit up watching gay porn and straight men's brains lit up during straight porn. What's interesting is that the area that lit up was different between gays and straights. So the "wiring" of gay men's brains is different than straight men's. No one can fake that. What is natural for gay men is unnatural for straight men when it comes to intimate activities. There are plenty of other studies showing that the organization of gay and straight brains is different. So there is real natural law in action. I can take Hamer et al's studies, combine it with the work of others. I can go from the chromosome, to genetic expression, to the neurophysiological level and see consistent outcomes. So I have this beautiful narrative told in the oldest languages of all RNA, DNA, proteins and cells. No meddling. No editing. All with out any presuppositions. Your side cannot do that. You have no hard evidence, you just have words on a page. Not convincing by any measure.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 8 months ago
Mr. Miller, pity you are not a liberal arts student. I am a medical doctor and I fully understand the difference between a gene and a region on the female chromosome. It is called female because two of them define a female of our species, whereas a single Y (XY couplet) defines a male. In every single cell in the body (barring the red blood cell that lacks a nucleus). There is no chromosome for homosexuality, no gene, no exon. You will not find it in epigenetics either. In fact, the medical literature is replete with data showing the fluidity of homosexual/bisexual behavior (temporary, situation based, stress based, etc. see this report, for example http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2377304/ or the life of Anne Heche or the wife of the newly elected NY Mayor de Blasio or even in the NYT, shocking as that might be: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/magazine/my-ex-gay-friend.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). But, even the Xq28 region does not hold up. Here is a short review on the subject from a "gay friendly" source (the sources you only read, evidently), a molecular biologist PhD - http://www.bio.davidson.edu/courses/genomics/2002/pierce/gaygene.htm. If you can't make it through the whole article, just look at the paragraph beginning "The year 1995 marked the beginning of the end of optimism for chromosome Xq28 as an indicator of male homosexuality..." and note the reference to the peer reviewed articles in the April 1999 journal Science (Rice et al., 1999 and Wickelgren, 1999). where those scientists show that their results, “do not support an X-linked gene underlying male homosexuality” - The author concludes - "This officially sounded the death-knell for the optimism held by Hamer et al.." In any case, I do not argue that the homosexual sex is wrong just because no hard evidence can be found in biology (outside documenting the behavior and the medical consequences), or even because the medical literature shows it is generally unhealthy (see this article that discusses the epidemic of syphilis in men having sex with men: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1874206/). It is you who are using this type of data to make a moral argument, even when it doesn't support your case. As I said above, even if data came out connecting a sexual orientation with some genes (or even a whole chromosome - impossible that that would be), we would still have to look elsewhere for the moral case.
G Miller
4 years 8 months ago
Davidson College, never heard of it. I'm sure it's a good school but it's not a great institution for scientific research. Where do they rank in the number of RO1 grants from the NIH? I'm sure they aren't up there with UCSF, Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and MIT. Why go back to 1995 for data when you can look at the Proceedings for ASHG in 2012 where they presented data that supports Dr. Hamer? If you read more current publications, you will have a better idea of what current thinking is on a subject. The average half-life on scientific information is maybe two years. Stuff written in the 90s is ancient history. If you are really a physician you can probably get continuing ed credit for going to the meeting if there is clinical component. The west coast meetings always have more people attend, so think about ASHG 2014 which will be in San Diego. I have no doubt that the number of cases of syphilis went up among men who have sex with men while the overall rate of syphilis went down. But what is the cause of that? Is it that gay men were having more sex than they were in prior decades? I would suggest to you, that in part it was because more men were being honest and self-identifying as gay. With less stigma comes better data. Educating kids about the risks of unprotected sex and STIs is a constant battle. I read today that in the UK the rate of HIV infection is increasing. Those kids today weren't around when HIV was a mystery disease. They never saw people with KS. They never saw the wasting away of a friend. They just don't fully get it. It's our job to teach all kids well and give them good information. Good decisions spring forth from good information. As far as the fluidity of sexuality, it's there and it is called heterozygosity. The data shown at ASHG only shows a correlation for homosexuality. No one has got into the genetics of bisexuality. You always want black-and-white but again God doesn't always color within the lines. Or should I say God doesn't color within the lines we think should be there. God seems to like messy....or at least a level of unpredictability. I think in your worldview, you think procreation defines our humanity. Yet, there are many straight couples who do not have children. Does that make their marriage something less? Does it mean their bond was somehow weaker or less blessed by God? Is it immoral not to procreate? I would again point you to the First Principle and Foundation (SpEx 23.) My personal view is that the lesson of the Cross is fidelity. I am faithful to my husband and will love him with all my mind and all my heart as long as I live. I feel blessed to be loved by this amazing human being. I will do this no matter what you and the rest of the un-Christian straight world throws at us as a couple. In the end, I think that will be enough for God.
G Miller
4 years 9 months ago
The biggest question is whether the USCCB will actually be faithful to the process and gather input from the faithful. They seem to be flipping Pope Francis the bird in the way they are behaving. It's too bad all the bishops aren't Jesuits. Having all bishops and cardinals having that special 4th Vow to the Pope would come in handy right now.
Michael Cobbold
4 years 9 months ago
This may be of interest: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20131105_iii-assemblea-sinodo-vescovi_en.html Despite the Italian URL, the text at the URL is in English - an excerpt: "III. Questions The following series of questions allows the particular Churches to participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod, whose purpose is to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the pastoral challenges facing the family today. 1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium a) Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life? b) In those cases where the Church's teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they? c) How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family? d ) To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?..." ## How all the answers can be submitted by the bishops in time, and not give a misleading impression of what Catholics really think, is indeed anyone's guess.
Marion Boteju
4 years 9 months ago
Since the beginning of time, the family has held the most important role in a child's formation and development. The family is the first occasion in which a child encounters and understands love, acceptance and the knowledge of truth - that is, of his or her deep value and worth. Therefore, efforts to preserve and strengthen the family are the most noble and important of all our efforts.
Michael Barberi
4 years 9 months ago
If the 2014 Synod of Bishops is to focus on the New Evangelization; the nature of the new evangelization, the context of the Church's ministry today, the pastoral responses to the circumstances of our day, and the participants in the new evangelization, then the outcome cannot be a repeat of the past narrative on marital sexual ethics that has not been received. If this new evangelization is to succeed, then the Synod of Bishops must adequately address the impasse in fundamental theological ethics of all the issues facing families today namely: responsible birth control for couples who have children and want no more for good reasons, same-sex unions in a committed, faithful and long-term loving relationship, the Eucharistic reception for the divorced and remarried, cohabitation between serious adults in anticipation of a marriage, reproductive technologies that make procreation possible for many couples with serious fertility problems, et al. If the first step is to a ascertain the status of the question on these issues, then a questionnaire requiring hand-written responses to specific questions that most priests and bishops have no accurate knowledge of, under a time constraint for responses by December 31st, does not reflect the seriousness of issues. If what defines "success" is an increase in the reception of Church teachings (and the new evangelization that will reflect Church teachings), in particular marital sexual ethics, then the Church's strategy as understood so far is in need of dramatic improvement. What is unacceptable would be the lack of accurate lay input and more non-reception based on an unconvincing theology on important marital issues that would accompany this new evangelization.

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