DIVORCE, gay marriage and contraception are the headline issues being tackled in a questionnaire being sent to Roman Catholic dioceses at the behest of the Vatican.
The move is a sign of Pope Francis’s apparent willingness to promote social reforms in contrast to his conservative predecessors Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.
Questionnaires contain 39 questions and address issues such as the right to communion for divorcees who remarry.
“This is unprecedented –the Vatican wants to find out what the situation is, what hopes Catholics have and how the Church is treating them,” said Gerard O’Connell, an analyst with the Vatican Insider in Rome.
The results of the poll will be discussed at a synod of bishops on the theme of the family in October 2014, although a senior cardinal warned yesterday that dramatic doctrinal switches were unlikely.
“We don’t have a desire to re-open all the discussion on Catholic doctrine,” said the synod’s Hungarian co-ordinator, Cardinal Peter Erdo, at a news conference about the survey.
But the synod would take results on board if “a large part of public opinion feels a certain way”, he said. “We will have to reflect, pray and (the Pope) will shed light on it.”
The questionnaire asks whether a “simplification of canonical practice” for annulling marriages might help out people now barred from communion because they have divorced and remarried. “If yes, what form would it take?” the survey asks.
“They may not change doctrine but they might change practices and find a way round this,” said Mr O’Connell.
The questions posed suggest the Church is trying to discover what the real world looks like outside the Vatican walls, for example asking how many remarried divorcees are asking for communion. It is also keen to know from parish priests how they are dealing with tough issues, for example asking whether Church teaching on contraception is being accepted by worshippers.
Gay marriage is broached, with the survey asking “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?”, particularly, it adds, if the couple has adopted children.
The survey reflects Pope Francis’s stated desire to listen to Catholics before judging them. Asked his views on homosexuality in July, he said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
“The idea for the survey was decided at two sessions held by the synod council the Pope attended,” said Mr O’Connell. “One cardinal told me ‘I have sat in on meetings for four synods and a pope has never once come in.’”
So far, the Catholic Church of England and Wales has taken the lead in sending the poll out to all believers, first by publishing the questions in the Catholic publication the Universe, before posting them online.