Vatican Survey Confirms Rift between Catholic Faithful and Hierarchy

Cardinals and bishops exit the Vatican’s Synod Hall after a discussion of the findings from the Vatican survey on family life, which revealed a Catholic laity that diverged from the hierarchy on issues like contraception, divorce and homosexuality. © AP/ALESSANDRA TARANTINO

Cardinals and bishops exit the Vatican’s Synod Hall after a discussion of the findings from the Vatican survey on family life, which revealed a Catholic laity that diverged from the hierarchy on issues like contraception, divorce and homosexuality. © AP/ALESSANDRA TARANTINO

Last Fall, the Vatican sent bishops’ conferences a questionnaire on the theme “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” in advance of the Synod of Bishops this fall. The survey covered topics such as contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce, asking, “In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?”

In early February, the German bishops’ conference released a report of the findings from their country’s survey, which said, “The Church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried, and on birth control … are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases,” according to excerpts published in the Catholic World Report.

The Swiss bishops’ conference released findings similar to those in Germany. Some, such as the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, stated that they would not release the results.

In the United States, one of the bishops who sought a grassroots response to the Vatican survey was Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., who said the results of the questionnaire “suggest the rejection of church teaching on [contraception].” Among the 78 percent of his 6,800 responses from people who attend Mass every week, 81 percent disagreed with the church ban on modern contraception. Participants also felt the church could be “less judgmental and more welcoming” to lesbian and gay individuals, and they displayed a strong conviction that divorced and remarried Catholics should be treated differently.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin discussed the findings from Dublin with the Irish Times. He said that the faithful in his archdiocese found the hierarchy’s stance on contraception, same-sex relationships and divorced and remarried Catholics to be “disconnected from the real life experience of families—and not just by younger people.” Elsewhere in Ireland, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam said that Humanae Vitae, the encyclical condemning birth control, was generally understood but not generally accepted by the faithful.

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