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Pope Francis. Photo by: Copyright: L'Osservateore Romano

Pope Francis's questionnaire for ordinary Catholics raises questions

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Pope Francis. Photo by: Copyright: L'Osservateore Romano

Pope Francis is enjoying quite a honeymoon in the Vatican.  Few institutions have come under such heavy attack as the Catholic Church in recent years, and one reason for all of the love people are showing Francis is that he is simply a breath of fresh air.

After years of sexual abuse revelations, and a broader feeling that these religious old men seemed to have far too much interest in what was going on in people’s bedrooms, Pope Francis’ proclamations about the poor, materialism, gays and even atheists, seemed downright refreshing, even if you didn’t agree with him.

For these reasons, Pope Francis was dubbed Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and was the subject of a recent, fawning profile in The New Yorker magazine by Irish American Pulitzer Prize winner James Carroll.

Plus, you can sometimes judge a person by the enemies he makes.  And Pope Francis has got himself some eminently unlikeable enemies.

Conservative Irish American pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity have grumbled at some of Pope Francis’ proclamations, and Foxnews.com editor and Catholic affairs specialist Adam Shaw slammed Francis as the “Catholic Church’s Obama.”

In other words, with enemies like this, Pope Francis must be doing something right!

However, not everything is going so smoothly for the pontiff.

Late last year, Pope Francis was applauded for initiating a process designed to collect opinions from lay Catholics across the globe.  A questionnaire with almost 40 questions about family, marriage and other key topics was sent out to parishes.

Pope Francis “is asking the world’s one billion Catholics for their opinions on a questionnaire covering social issues like same-sex marriage, cohabitation by unwed couples, contraception, and the place of divorced and remarried people in the church,” The New York Times reported back in November.

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

This seemed to be further proof that Pope Francis was interested in common folk, and hoped the opinions of those in the pews might shape a new Vatican for the 21st Century.  The collected information was going to be used to set the agenda for a much-anticipated meeting (or synod) of bishops later this year.

The “style and content of the questionnaire represent a deliberate effort by Francis to engage ordinary Catholics, unlike in the past when synods have attracted little attention,” The Times noted.

“Francis 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.”

But now that it has wrapped up, the Vatican’s questionnaire process has raised questions of its own.  First of all, quite a few of the 39 questions employed language befitting a doctoral candidate in theology, rather than a salt-of-the-earth parishioner.

“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?”

Not exactly the type of stuff you would chat about over coffee cake after Mass.

Meanwhile, more conservative Catholics don’t like the impression that the Pope is essentially polling Catholics the way a politician might use voter surveys to determine a position.

Furthermore, groups such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have seized on the questionnaire initiative to voice other criticisms in an effort to reform the Vatican, much to the chagrin of traditionalists.

Finally, since the Vatican merely requested that local Catholic leaders disseminate and the questionnaire “as widely as possible,” some did as San Antonio’s Archbishop did and simply chose not to make the questionnaires available to parishioners.

So, for all of the talk about a Francis Revolution, the old battles between church liberals and conservatives, between powerful administrators and the folks in the pews, rages on.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com

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