There’s an old saying that goes something like this: Never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to. And I’m thinking the Vatican must be wishing they had kept their questions to themselves right about now.
It all began when the Vatican scheduled a meeting of bishops this coming October to discuss church teachings and family issues, and then decided to poll Catholics on certain issues to get their feedback. The poll was sent to every national conference of bishops with a request to share it with Catholic churches, schools, institutions, parishes and individuals. And the answers that came back don’t necessarily show that Catholics agree with the Catholic Church.
The bishops in both Germany and Switzerland released the findings of their polls, and we now know that the vast majority of Catholics in those two countries blatantly reject the church teaching on sexual morality, contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce, calling them unrealistic and outdated; and those Catholics who responded also claim they are very active in their church and parish on a daily basis and considered their faith very important, so they are not Holiday Catholics — attending services only on major holidays — or lapsed Catholics.
And, even more shocking is that the bishops released their findings; the German bishops’ conference printed the results on their website in German, Italian and English, while the Swiss held a press conference.
The German bishops’ survey clearly revealed that the “church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control ... are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases” while the Swiss bishops went further, saying the church’s very mission was being threatened by its insistence on such outdated directives.
Wanna know what American Catholics think? How they responded to the survey? Not gonna happen because the U.S. dioceses haven’t reported the results of their surveys in any detail. In fact, while Baltimore Archbishop William Lori admitted that 4,000 people responded to his survey, he gave no information about what they felt; he would only say that “the majority of Catholics who responded said they strive to practice their faith, but acknowledged the struggles and confusion they face in doing so.”
The archdiocese of Philadelphia said it was following Vatican guidelines by not publishing the findings at all.
Still, it appears quite likely that American Catholics agree with the European Catholics, at least on the issue of contraception. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 75% of U.S. Catholics think the church should permit members to use birth control.
As for same-sex marriage, most German and Swiss Catholics realize that it is increasingly accepted; and understand that unmarried couples are increasingly the norm. They also call the ban on artificial contraception unrealistic but “blatantly immoral” especially when coupled with the issue of using condoms to fight HIV.
And they aren’t so keen on Church teachings regarding divorce; Catholics who don’t have their first marriage annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, before remarrying cannot receive Communion because they are thought to be living in sin and committing adultery. With annulments often impossible to get, or taking years top process, generations of Catholics who have divorced feel shunned by the Church.
This is all good news, except …. don’t expect the Catholic Church to change any time soon, even under the guidance of Pope Francis. It’s been hundreds of years of the same old teachings and it’s nearly impossible to teach an old dog, or even an older Catholic, a new trick.