The worldwide survey undertaken by the Vatican is bizarre on so many levels, one’s head spins.
The sheer cost of polling 1.2 billion subjects, which is the world’s Catholic population, must be staggering.
If it were conducted by a marketing company, the cost could run into billions. But even if much of the work will be done by local parishes, we’re still talking millions.
How this tallies with the Pope’s intention of turning the Vatican into ‘a poor Church for the poor’ is an interesting question. Also, does he mean the Church is only for the poor? If so, what’s the income above which a communicant would be excluded? I’m sure His Holiness will be able to field such questions with some élan. He was after all educated at a Jesuit seminary.
Then there’s the questionnaire itself. Its stated objective is to find out how Catholics feel about the Church’s family policy, how parishes apply it and how both handle such thorny issues as divorce, cohabitation and homomarriage.
I haven’t studied the demographics of the world’s Catholics, about half of whom live in Latin America. Most of the Catholics I know are erudite priests and laymen, but one doubts they’re a representative sample.
Yet some of the questions in the survey seem to be based on the assumption that all Catholics are at least as accomplished as my friends. To wit:
Question 1 a): “Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today?”
Or else Question 2 a): “What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?”
I must admit the implicit presumption that most Catholics could be coherent on such issues shatters my preconceptions about the schooling of all those Peruvian campesinos. Alternatively, in addition to its known intoxicating and hallucinogenic properties, pisco must produce epiphanic experiences that override some likely gaps in their grasp of scholastic theology.
As so often happens, the context elucidates the text. Considering the pontiff’s earlier statements about the Church’s ‘obsession’ with things like abortion, divorce and homomarriage, along with his intention to make theology friendlier to women, one fears the Pope is considering a leftward shift.
The questionnaire contains fairly transparent hints at this. Thus Question 4 f): “Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognising a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved?” (“Are you comfortable with divorce?”, in plain English.)
Or else Questions 5 d): “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?” (“Should the Church bless homomarriage?” in other words.)
The Church hierarchy is denying that the survey implies any subsequent doctrinal changes. “The synod does not have to decide on the basis of the majority of public opinion,” says Archbishop Bruno Forte.
Then why spend the ‘poor Church’s’ millions? If the survey is inspired by customer-satisfaction polls of department-store customers, then surely the results must determine the merchandise on offer. If, on the other hand, the idea comes from politics, then policy changes are bound to follow.
Surely the money isn’t being squandered to satisfy idle curiosity? Not according to The Times.
“Let us hope [the survey] is a harbinger of change that is needed in the Catholic Church,” says the paper’s editorial. “Reforming an ancient institution is never easy,” it goes on. “Look at the House of Lords.”
I couldn’t agree more. Reforming an ancient institution is never easy. Deforming it, however, is a doddle – look at the House of Lords, to quote the formerly respectable paper.
It gets better (or worse, depending on your point of view). “In the developed world, at any rate, the Church’s doctrines concerning sexual and personal morality are now completely out of kilter with how people actually live and think.”
True. By the same token, many people break the laws against murder, theft and rape. On this basis does The Times think such laws should be repealed?
This is just one example of a shortfall in logic that’s the paper’s current trademark. The editorial provides many others:
“The Catholic Church… can choose to stand against social change in the name of a dogmatic interpretation of its principles. Or it can seek to adapt to changing mores… If this is the mission of Pope Francis then it is very much a welcome one.”
No doubt it is, in such pockets of staunch piety as Notting Hill and Islington. The rest of us reach for an antiemetic.
It’s not the Church’s business to ‘adapt to changing mores’. Its mission is to welcome those that agree with its teachings and fight tooth and nail those that don’t.
Somewhere a flip-flop occurred in what passes for the mind of the liberal elite. The Church is now expected to conform to the UN Charter on Human Rights rather than to Christian dogma. In the process it’s supposed to turn into a plebiscitary democracy, as if this method of government weren’t perverse even in its natural habitat.
Should the Vatican abandon subterfuge and let focus groups shape the Christian doctrine? The Times would welcome that, especially if the findings suggested that the divinity of Christ is no longer accepted by the majority.
Those intellectually challenged pundits simply don’t know better. Let’s pray the Vatican does.