Bergoglio wants to hear what Catholics have to say about the challenging issues that families face every day and how the church can help.
And he wants to hear from those who sit in the pews as well as those who identify themselves as Catholics but don’t attend church. And he is not shying away from sensitive issues such as divorce, remarriage, civil marriages or same-sex relationships.
Catholics in El Paso and across the country are being asked to fill out a survey to help gauge beliefs on a variety of topics. There are 195 archdioceses or dioceses in the United States and thousands of Catholics have already submitted their replies.
In El Paso, people can go online or get a copy that will be collected and tabulated by Tepeyac Institute. The survey, available at www.tepeyacinstitute.com will be online through Sunday. Paper copies can be picked up at the Tepeyac Institute, 499 St. Matthews St., in the Lower Valley. Some churches also have paper copies of the survey available. The paper copies of the survey are due at Tepeyac by Thursday to give employees time to input data, Diocese officials said.
Jean Soto, interim assistant director of Tepeyac, said it’s a historic moment in the Catholic Church.
“The very fact that the entire laity is being asked to respond in it of itself is groundbreaking. The process is ground breaking,” Soto said. “The laity are being (told), ‘We want you to act as church because we are all the church and by giving us your experience, your understanding, your wisdom, and your faith on these issues.'”
The survey on the family, titled “The Vocation and Mission of the Family,” comes after a gathering of Catholic Church bishops with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss topics related to family and evangelization in October 2014.
“They talked about how the family can be a means of spreading the gospel of evangelism. There is a new phrase that is being called the Gospel of the Family, the emphasis is on the ability of healthy, thriving families to share the good news of the gospel,” Soto said.
The outcome of the synod was that it raised the question of how the Catholic church can help families become healthy and whole, knowledgable in their faith and able to live that out in an authentic way, Soto said.
In his synod summary, Francis said the survey was a matter of rethinking “with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty, the role and the dignity of the family.”
Francis added that they had one year to discern and “find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront.”
The survey, narrowed to 25 from 45 questions by the El Paso Diocese, is divided in three sections.
The first section is “Listening: The Context and the Challenges of the Family,” which includes questions about child care, outreach to the divorced, single parents, and unmarried couples living together.
The second section, “Looking at Christ: The Gospel of the Family,” asks questions about ways the church can help marriages. One of questions also asks respondents if they think divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive the Eucharist. It also asks whether divorced or remarried Catholics should be allowed to serve in ministries such as lectors.
The third section, “Confronting the Situation: Pastoral Perspectives,” asks how the Christian community can give pastoral attention to people who are gay. It also asks what could be done at the pastoral level to support marriage and if annulments should be easier and cheaper.
Soto, who is leading some focus groups on the survey, said the issue of remarried Catholics has been a challenging one for both religious leaders and Catholics in general.
“Questions about divorce and being civilly remarried weigh heavily on the mind of bishops and certainly Pope Francis,” she said.
She added, “in the focus group, when we came to this part on divorce and remarriage – that is where we got the most conversation. It seems like everyone knows someone who either is not able to receive communion even though they are upstanding members of the community or they know people who have left the Catholic church for that reason.”
Experts acknowledge it is a challenge for the church to meet the needs of people in these contemporary times while still upholding traditional doctrine.
“I think there’s an understanding that there are ways to be church that can include people who feel excluded from the church. And we are struggling to find those ways and remain faithful to the gospel,” Soto said.
Vatican expert John L. Allen, and author of “The Francis Miracle,” said he believes Francis is pushing the church toward the “most merciful possible way of applying traditional teachings.”
He added, “what is significant is that the pope is wanting to consult with the people before making a decision.”
Allen, however, said it doesn’t mean that the pope would make any radical changes. (??)
“It’s always positive when people feel like the leader is interested in what they have to say. On the other hand, it might create a false or exaggerated sense for some to draw a conclusion that we are on the brink of radical change,” Allen said.
The survey responses will be summarized in a report that will be sent to the bishops from around the world and discussed at a synod, scheduled for October 2015, with Pope Francis in Rome.
The following are ways the Church might help families in difficult situations.
Are you aware of any projects, programs or ministries in the local Church that:
a: recognize God’s presence in family life
b: teach and establish sound relationships
c: promote social and economic policies useful to the family
d: help families with child care issues
e: help families with the elderly and family members who are chronically ill
f: address specific issues in the El Paso Catholic Dioceses like outreach to the divorced, single parents, unmarried couples living together
g: address specific issues in the El Paso Catholic Diocese that relate to our border, like helping those dealing with violence in Mexico?
h: Please list any other challenging situations for families that are not given above
Many of us received the gift of our Catholic faith within our families. (Yes or No statements)
a: I was told about the Catholic faith by my mother, father, or other close relative.
b: A family member taught me how to pray
c: My present family prays together
d: In addition to going to Mass my family participates in church activities during the week
e: I talk with my family about faith matters
f: Other ways that the faith is lived in my family:
Do you think that the following practices should be sponsored or permitted by the Diocese and/or parishes?
a: Forming support groups for cohabitating couples interested in remaining in contact with their church.
b: Inviting couples who are not sacramentally married to begin a journey toward the sacrament.
Source: El Paso Times