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. However, you and your family may never be asked to provide any input regarding your personal family values. Instead, the questions and its ultimate direction will be dealt with almost exclusively by an all male and celibate jury.
The results of this Family survey will be presented to an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will meet at the Vatican, in October 2014. The theme of this Third Extraordinary General Assembly is “The pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelization”. What is the connection of this survey with ‘evangelization’? It would appear, based on the way the questions have been arranged, that evangelization must give preference to the transmission of Orthodox Church teachings compared to changing cultural values.
What are family values and what constitutes a family? The Vanier Institute of the Family defines 'family' as "any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of the following:
- Physical maintenance and care of group members
- Addition of new members through procreation or adoption
- Socialization of children
- Social control of members
- Production, consumption, distribution of goods and services
- Affective nurturance – love"
While the document does not provide a list of what it thinks are essential family values, here are some suggestions - Belonging, Flexibility, Respect, Honesty, Forgiveness, Sharing/Generosity, Curiosity, Communication, Responsibility, Traditions, together with all the tears, warts, blemishes mixed with loads of good humour. What are yours?
But don’t be surprised if the Bishop in your parish approaches you in the next few days and asks you some questions on your particular family values. One word of caution "be sure you do so privately because most of the questions are primarily related to sexual issues and as they affect your entire family. Don’t take it personally". The bishop is simply trying to answer a questionnaire that was sent to him recently at the request of a special group called Synod of Bishops. This group, with the blessings of Pope Francis, merely wants to understand how Roman Catholic families are faring under a variety of changing cultural values set against fixed church teachings.
While it cannot be said with any certainty most Traditional Roman Catholic Bishops believe that in a perfect Roman Catholic world families must not fall prey to sins of:
· engaging in cohabitation
· using contraception other than ‘natural law’ methods approved by the church
· separation, divorce or remarry
· engaging in or approving of a gay lifestyle
· approving of or engaging in same-sex marriage
Of course this perception could be totally wrong. Perhaps Pope Francis does not see secularists, atheist, 'barbarians of the north’ as the ‘enemy’, but as human beings struggling like everyone else. But the Catholic News Service quickly downplayed such hopes when they recently stated: “some people may believe changes in Church teaching are in store given 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. However, the document said, "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."
If you and everyone else is waiting to receive your personal copy of the questionnaire many will be disappointed. Unfortunately the North American bishops have decided that they have the inclusive right to answer these questions on our behalf. And that’s why some may still be approached by their diocesan bishop so that he can formulate his answers for the Synod next year. How these bishops will accumulate the answers to some of these intimate questions will probably never be known. Especially considering that up to 10% of Catholic families will include a homosexual person. At the same time statistics indicate that up to 90% of Catholic women continue to use contraceptive methods not approved by the institution. Yet another impossible example from the questionnaire asks ‘Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church?" Who and where are the families likely to provide an honest answer to these questions?
Another challenging question concerning marriages asks: “Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? There remain many more questionable questions for our poor Bishops to consider.
For example one of the questions (3c) posed in this survey concerns the generational crisis and how this has affected the faith life of Christian families. This cultural phenomenon, probably more than anything else, has had a far greater impact on the institution than on individual families. Diana Butler Bass in her book ‘Christianity after Religion’ writes:
“Our grandparents and parents may have been very good at the doing of religion, the how of faith, but, in their world, there was no need to engage the interior questions of meaning, the what and why of faith. Maybe their parents forgot to share the what and why with them. In an inherited familial culture, the what was assumed and the why was unnecessary. In a fractured individualist culture, there exist no compelling reasons to reenact familial vocations in work and prayer and many compelling reasons to depart from old ways. Since this cultural shift, three entire generations have been born into a world where the threads of memory have been cut and where life has to be woven anew by each of us. It is up to each one of us to stitch a new fabric of authenticity, meaning, and purpose.When how an end in itself, people became began to ask what. When it comes to behavior (in contrast to belief), the what emerges as the driving spiritual question. What always leads to why—the compelling reason to choose a particular path of what. Whereas religious behavior was largely a matter of how, spiritual practice entails the inner experience of what and why as people must intentionally choose their actions and vocations. After a choice is made, then we craft a new way of faith, the how follows the what and why. Choice, meaning, and practice interlace to open us to purposeful ways of being in the world.”
Perhaps this is the most important question contained in the survey. What remains to be asked is ‘how will the Church deal with this question? Especially in light of the fact that the majority of families have already spoken with their feet.
It would appear that the questionnaire will not be made available to the families in your parish. Although there have been several more progressive bishops in the U.K. and Australia, who have taken the initiative to 'poll' their flock. In this regard the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in a carefully worded statement comments: “ Should you wish to express any personal opinions in this regard, our Executive Officers suggest that you send them to your own diocesan Bishop, as you would in any other case.” The CCCB also presents the survey on line as follows:
Family Synod 2014 The 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.
For a public reaction in Germany see Spiegel's February 3rd. three part article 'The Pope's Sex Problem: Catholic Survey Reveals Frustrated Flock' here.
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?
2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?
3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization
a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the "domestic Church" be promoted?
b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?
c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?
d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?
e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?
f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?
4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?
d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?
e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?
f ) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?
g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?
5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?
b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages
a) What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
b) How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?
d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?
7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life
a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?
b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?
c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?
d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?
e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?
f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?
8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person
a) Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?
b) What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?
c) To what extent do the many crisis of faith which people can experience affect family life?
9. Other Challenges and Proposals
What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?