Among other things that have been going on while I’ve been too busy to blog has been the announcement of an Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the family to be held in October 2014, accompanied by a preparatory document with a questionnaire that was supposed to be used to gather input at the parish level. This announcement was immediately followed by a flurry of media and blog coverage about whether this was the first time such a thing had ever been done, whether it amounted to a survey on church doctrine, which bishops’ conferences and individual bishops were posting the survey online for easy lay participation, which were not, which were posting something kind of like the survey but simplified (and possibly slanted), and which lay groups were doing the same.
Before I get into all that, let me say that providing this input appears to be a time-sensitive task: there’s no date in the preparatory document, but I’ve seen mention that the deadline specified by the USCCB is the end of this December. Presumably this is to allow ample time to process the input they receive prior to the synod in October.
If you are Catholic, you have both a right and a responsibility to advise the bishops on this matter, according to canon law, specifically Canon 212.3,
which is based on paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium.
Whether or not this questionnaire has been made available to you by your bishop or your parish, you may access it directly on the Vatican website, and you may send it to your own bishop and/or directly to Archbishop Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops. You may also consider whether to send a copy to your pastor, or to the USCCB.
In addition to answering the questionnaire, you may wish to append additional testimony as to your experience with the teaching of the church on marriage and the family, and the ways in which you have observed or experienced that this teaching does, or does not, lead to human flourishing.
If you have ever wished that the bishops would listen to lay people, this is your opportunity.
I strongly advise against providing your input by means of any of the unofficial versions of the questionnaires that have been put together online by lay groups, at least if you want your input to be taken seriously by the bishops. Justly or not, many of these groups are perceived by the bishops as dissenting voices, and I think it likely that their results will therefore be ignored. I have seen only one such version, which did indeed appear to me to be a biased, rather than an accurate, rendering of the actual questionnaire.
If you have not been offered another method by which to provide your input, the easiest way is probably to save the document as a web page (“HTML only”), then open it with your word processor and type your answers directly under each question. You can delete sections I and II of the preparatory text (but do read them first!), and replace it with a list of addressees and any introductory comments you might have. Then save the result and either email it, or print it out and mail it.
Even though it seems extremely peculiar (not to mention labor-intensive) in this day and age to be answering a questionnaire that is not administered online, remember that we belong to a 2000 year old church, which has for centuries obtained information by means of written questionnaires, and offer it up.
A quick perusal of the Preparatory Document and its questionnaire makes it clear that, consistent with the original Vatican announcement, and contrary to the more sensationalized media coverage, this is by no means a popular opinion poll on whether and how to change church teaching. To the contrary, the questions probe whether, how, and why church teaching is presently understood and accepted, and how the church might pastorally respond to those who do not accept some aspects of church teaching.
It is also immediately clear that the intended audience of this document is not the ordinary Catholic, because it uses terms and refers to documents with which bishops may be familiar but most Catholics are not. Reading through the entire preparatory document, rather than just skipping straight to the questions, will help here. The document on the Vatican website contains links to other documents that it references, but not to the sections of the Catechism, which you can also read online at the USCCB website (The Sacrament of Matrimony and The Sixth Commandment are the sections that are referenced.)
Reading the preparatory document also makes it clear that it was drawn up for a worldwide church, and not exclusively for the American or Western church, as it raises concerns such as polygamy, dowries, and the caste system as well as divorce, reproductive technology, and the reformulation of the family. The questions themselves, though, don’t seem to be as globally intended, as they particularly emphasize the latter points with no mention of the former.
Before going on to the questions themselves, I want to pause and note the ecclesiology of the opening paragraph of section three, which introduces them: Continue reading