VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Gearing up for round two of a blockbuster Synod on the Family, the Vatican has asked bishops around the world to survey their flocks on hot-button issues such as divorce, abortion and the place of LGBT Catholics.
But the draft survey released Tuesday (Dec. 9) shows no sign of a softening in the church’s position on any of those issues after dramatic divisions emerged among bishops at the recent synod at the Vatican in October.
The “lineamenta” (which means “outline” in Latin) is based on the final report of the October summit and provides a framework for the follow-up synod, schedule for Oct. 4–25, 2015. Final responses are due back to the Vatican by April 15.
The document will be translated into several languages and distributed to Vatican departments, bishops’ conferences and Eastern Catholic churches to gain direct feedback on the changing nature of the family and relationships.
The last time the Vatican issued a worldwide survey, some bishops actively sought out the opinions of lay Catholics; others delegated the task to prelates or theologians.
Pope Francis has described the bishops’ headline-grabbing October synod as a “journey,” and in an interview with Argentinian daily La Nacion earlier this week he said “resistance” was a healthy part of the process.
Included in the survey:
In a move that has already angered a leading gay Catholic group, the document speaks of pastoral care for those with “homosexual tendencies.”
“How can the Christian community direct its pastoral care to families that have people with homosexual tendencies among them?” the survey asks. “Avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can we take care of people in such situations in light of the Gospel?”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, reacted angrily to the working document.
“The language ‘people with homosexual tendencies’ is a reversion to the dated and judgmental tone that so many had hoped was fading into the past given Pope Francis’ apparent comfort in talking with and about LGBT people in a more realistic and respectful way,” she said.
“LGBT people certainly need appropriate pastoral care that starts from a position of acknowledging our moral equality with all other people, and that accepts the reality of our lives and the families we create. But we are not a problem for the church to solve. We are human beings, baptized members of our church, God’s beloved just as are other members of the church.”
After a midpoint report from October’s synod spoke of the “gifts and qualities” of gay and lesbian Catholics, the bishops’ final document failed to include a watered-down proposal to welcome gays. The final statement said “men and women with homosexual tendencies should be welcomed with respect and delicacy.”
Given the recent debate about marriage annulments and Francis’ personal concern about costs and delays in the process, the document seeks feedback on how that may be changed. In August, the pope established a commission to look at changing canon law and reforming annulments.
“How do we make procedures more accessible and quicker, and possibly free, for recognizing cases of annulment?” the working document asks.
It also raises questions about the indissolubility of marriage and sacraments for divorced Catholic who remarry outside the church, saying the issue requires “further investigation.”
“What are the prospects for moving? What are the possible steps? What are the suggestions for avoiding undue or unnecessary impediments?”
The bishops’ document emphasizes the church’s commitment to celebrate and protect human life. It says motherhood and fatherhood are vocations. “How can the church fight the scourge of abortion providing an effective culture of life?” the new survey asks.