Vatican orders unprecedented Catholic poll

Opinions to be sought on issues including same-sex marriage and contraception


“What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in same-sex unions?”

That is just one of 39 questions that will shortly be put to Catholics all around the world as the Vatican conducts an unprecedented universal poll among bishops, priests and lay faithful.

Same-sex marriage, divorce, contraception and gay adoption are just some of the wide-ranging social issues that feature on a survey which will be administered by the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops.

Given that the synod is as close as the Holy See gets to a parliament, it might seem that democracy is about to hit the Holy See. In reality, the questionnaire is more an expression of Pope Francis’s desire for a collegiate church of consultation and dialogue.

Pastoral challenges
Last month, the secretary general of the Synod, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, sent a letter, “preparatory document” and questionnaire to the presidents of all the Catholic bishops’ conferences, pointing out that Pope Francis had decided to convene two synods, in October 2014 and in October 2015. The theme of the synods will be “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”.

The included questionnaire is by way of preparation for this, with Archbishop Baldiserri saying in his letter: “I would be most grateful if your Eminence [head of the conference] would distribute the ‘document’ to the dioceses, and ask them to share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received regarding the themes and responses to the questionnaire, as well as any helpful statistics.”

The church is in effect about to hold a massive Catholic opinion poll. Already the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has responded to the synod’s request by publishing the questionnaire and preparatory document in a four-page supplement to this weekend’s edition of the Universe Catholic weekly.

In a message, Archbishop Nichols encouraged people to respond to the 39 questions, arranged around nine topics, adding: “Your participation is important . . . [This will bring] the thoughts and experiences of people who live the vocation of Christian marriage and family life [to the Synod fathers].”

The archbishop pointed out that the purpose of the survey was “to establish an accurate picture of the situation we face” so as to help the synod make proposals for “the living of the gospel of the family in a credible manner”.

While the Synod of Bishops has always consulted with bishops, priests and some laity prior to the holding of a synod, this synod seems set to become a landmark Vatican event in that it will involve huge numbers of laity.

A spokesman for the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference was unable to confirm last night that the Irish bishops had received the synod document, adding that any such document would be discussed at the bishops’ December plenary session.