In February 2014, when Univision conducted a poll of more than 12,000 Catholics from five continents to gauge the level of support for controversial Catholic teachings, there were as you might expect, enormous differences across regions. But on the issue of contraception, there is a remarkable consensus. Overall, 78% of Catholics in Europe, Africa, Latin America, the U.S. and the Philippines opposed the teachings of the Catholic Church on this issue.
% of Catholics who disagree with Church teachings - Overall
Gay marriage, 30%
Women priests, 45%
Married priests, 50%
Abortion, 66% (9,57)
Support for contraception by region
Is that the “sense of the faithful” the sensus fidelium so central to our understanding of the Church coming out of Vatican II?
Commenting on the 6800 survey responses he received in answer to his diocesan survey taken in preparation for this synod, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida said,” “On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, ‘that train left the station long ago.’ Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject.”
His comments echo what FutureChurch and seventeen Catholic reform organizations in the United States found as a result of their November 2013 survey where only 1% of 16, 582 respondents (52% self identified as mass goers) agreed that the teachings of Humanae Vitae were completely accepted.
The bishops from Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and Japan all echoed similar reports.
Pope Paul VI ‘s decision to overturn the recommendation of his Pontifical Commission on Birth Control became a breakpoint, according to sociologist Fr. Andrew Greeley, for the disintegration of trust and respect for the authority of Church teaching on this issue and the subsequent mass exodus of parishioners.
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that Catholics have not accepted the tenets of Humanae Vitae, there is far too little evidence that this synod will provide the participants who could engender new conversations on the topic. The official yet minority position of the Church on this issue is vastly overrepresented in the current makeup of the invitees while those who could engender serious new discussions were left out.
Yet there is hope in those who express the position of the majority of faithful Catholics such as Cardinal Walter Kasper who recently said that birth control was “the responsibility of the parents” to decide and that the natural family planning promoted by the Church also has an “artificial” element (Telegraph, 19 Sept 2014).
Further hope is connected to the man who called the synod in the first place. Recently, in response to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller’s full out defense of the immutability of Church teaching, Pope Francis said, “Faced with so many pastoral requirements, faced with the requests of men and women, we run the risk of becoming afraid and of turning in on ourselves in a fearful and defensive manner...This fear leads to the temptation to be self-satisfied and to clericalism, to codify the faith in rules and instructions just as was done by the Pharisees, the scribes and the doctors of law in Jesus’ time...(Irish Times, 20 Sept 2014).”
Indeed Catholics have experienced the weight of those in power who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them (Mt 23:4).”
At FutureChurch, our mission is rooted in the foundational notion that the faithful have fundamental rights and responsibilities in the life of the Church and for the good of the whole Church. They have the right to petition, that is, to make known to pastors their needs and hopes (C 212.2) and the right to advise pastors regarding the good of the church, and to participate in public opinion and informing the faithful (C212.3).
We believe it is imperative for the success of this synod and the life of the Church that the temptation to include only those who are loyal to current Church teaching in the working groups is avoided and that the voices of all the faithful are engaged in a meaningful way. That could happen if synod officials choose to widen their circles to include a diversity of voices while taking seriously the chorus of voices already received in the form of survey responses. Only by creating a structure where real dialogue can flourish will the Church find its way into a robust and meaningful future of shared faith and communal life.
FutureChurch agrees with both the hope and concern Sr. Joan Chittister expressed when she said, “From where I stand, it looks as if we have been given another opportunity to do it right this time. The only question is whether or not the bishops who were entrusted with gathering the answers of the laity to these questions will start at all. Let alone go all the way (NCR, 28 May 2014).” #####