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Archdiocese to survey faithful on family and church

January 30, 2015
Rick DelVecchio

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is planning to survey parishioners to gauge the sense of the faithful on matters that a global bishops’ gathering under Pope Francis will discuss this October on the theme “The Vocation of and Mission of the Family and Church in the Contemporary World.”

The plan calls for offering an easy-to-use questionnaire to pastors as a means for them to consult widely with their parishioners. The form, modeled on one the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is using for the purpose, would include questions to gather objective data and a space to write in comments.

Alternately, pastors could use the lengthy questionnaire sent to the world’s bishops by the secretary of the Oct. 4-25 Rome gathering, which is called the XIV Ordinary Synod of Bishops. Complex and assuming theological expertise, the Rome questionnaire is not suitable for wide distribution but may be helpful in pastors’ consultations with smaller groups.

Either way, the data collected would go to Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone for his summary report to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is due from all bishops March 20 and will be forwarded to Rome along with an executive summary by conference president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.

The Rome gathering follows last October’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The gathering’s summary document, which Pope Francis decided to make public, sets the stage for the larger meeting to reflect on “the critical and invaluable reality of the family” founded on the marriage between a man and woman and to go into depth on topics including threats to emotional and sexual health posed by pornography and “the commercialization of the body,” mercy toward broken and fragile families, pastoring to those who are divorced, remarried or cohabiting, marriage preparation and “pastoral attention toward persons with homosexual tendencies.”

In a memo to all U.S. bishops Jan. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said “the desire is for broad consultation to engage in a suitable manner all components of the particular church including academic institutions, organizations, lay movements and other ecclesial associations.” He noted that the U.S. bishops decided at their November gathering in Baltimore that the details of local consultations would be left to the individual bishops.

The archdiocesan plan emerged from an archdiocesan priests’ council meeting Jan. 15, where a presentation by the archbishop met with a positive response.

Jesuit Father John Piderit, moderator of the curia and vicar for administration, confirmed the discussion and the archbishop’s desire to gather a manageable amount of responses from the parishes. “All the priests agreed,” Father Piderit told Catholic San Francisco, adding that they want answers to objective questions as well as essay answers.

St. Emydius Parish administrator Father David Pettingill detailed the project in an interview with Catholic San Francisco.

“The consultation the Holy Father is insisting upon is simply living out the church’s teaching and belief in a very practical way, and the consultation is there so the bishops might be aware what their people believe and represent,” he said.

He called the consultation “a direct reponse” to paragraph 12 in the Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium” (“Dogmatic Constitution of the Church,”) issued by Pope Paul VI Nov. 21, 1964.

The document states, “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ‘from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.”

Father Pettingill said the council document links the teaching and believing functions of the church. He said churchwide consultation between the bishops and the faithful to develop the theme “hasn’t been done in our lifetime” and the opening owes much to Pope Francis.

“In hearing the pope speak, he’s talking about understanding people and taking them where they are,” Father Pettingill said. “Several times in his document ‘Joy of the Gospel’ he talks about ‘the ministry of accompaniment.’

“Part of that process is learning where they really are, what are the things they are facing, how can the church help them,” he said. “He also says the church is like a field hospital.”

Father Pettingill said the goal is not to change church teaching. “It may articulate it in a different way,” he said. “It also may say some compassionate things about people who don’t fall into our categories.

“I’ve heard people say the church can’t change its teaching,” he said. “Maybe we can be more inclusive and more inviting in what we say.”

Father Pettingill added that the priests’ council meeting delegates also agreed that in addition to a survey, catechesis should be included in pastors’ consultations with parishioners.

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