Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vatican Seeks Laity Comment on Family Issues Questionnaire Will Ask Catholics about Same-Sex Unions, Cohabitation, Divorce and Contraception

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vatican Seeks Laity Comment on Family Issues Questionnaire Will Ask Catholics about Same-Sex Unions, Cohabitation, Divorce and Contraception

Article excerpt

ROME -- Often, when the Vatican speaks, it can be a fairly one- sided conversation, issuing encyclicals and other formal documents stating the Roman Catholic Church's official position on doctrine or other matters.

But Pope Francis, who has shaken up the Vatican, is asking the world's 1 billion Catholics for their opinions on a questionnaire covering social issues such as same-sex marriage, unwed couples' cohabitation, contraception and the place of divorced and remarried people in the church.

"It's something that is totally new," said Monsignor Alberto Pala, a parish priest at the Cathedral of Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy. "And we are very pleased."

The questionnaire is being distributed to bishops worldwide in advance of their synod next fall. Family is the theme of that meeting, with bishops expected to grapple with how the church should address issues such as divorce and same-sex marriage. In the past, the Vatican has determined the agenda for synods and sought opinions from bishops' conferences around the world.

This time, however, some analysts say the style and content of the questionnaire represent a deliberate effort by Pope Francis to engage ordinary Catholics -- unlike in the past, when synods have attracted little attention. The pontiff has also raised expectations by changing the format, with next year's meeting framed as a prelude to a second synod in 2015 that could bring proposed changes, even if few expect him to pursue major doctrinal shifts.

In recent days, the Vatican has sought to play down the questionnaire's importance. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, denied this week that the pope was "polling" the laity and said the questions were part of a routine preparatory document for the synod.

But other Catholic leaders clearly see the questionnaire as a significant overture that could raise expectations among Catholics for next year's synod. The bishops of England and Wales put the questions online, while Vatican Radio, the church's official news media outlet, also posted the questionnaire, accompanied by an interview with Bishop John Hine of Britain extolling the document as "extremely significant."

"It really responds to the desire for the people, the laity in the church, to be consulted on matters which concern them so deeply," Bishop Hine told Vatican Radio. "Couples are delighted that they're going to be involved in the consultations. …

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