Twenty of the 70 Catholic dioceses in Canada are using their websites to ask Catholics for opinions about family life — questions that range from how the church can welcome families with gay members to how economics and media are shaping family life.
“This is an exciting time in our church,” writes Antigonish Bishop Joseph Dunn in a letter inviting Antigonish Catholics to participate in preparations for the October 2015 Rome synod on the family. “Your comments would be very helpful to me as I prepare comments for the Canadian response.”
The number of Canadian dioceses using their websites to distribute the Vatican’s questions “as widely as possible” has increased over the last year. The first exercise in online worldwide input for last year’s extraordinary synod on the family saw just 13 dioceses put questions up on the web.
Among the Canadian dioceses asking for online responses to the Vatican’s 46 questions are most of the largest dioceses in the country, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Quebec and Hamilton. But none of the dioceses are limiting their opinion-gathering to Internet responses. Meetings have been organized for parish councils, deaneries or zones and other groups.
In Whitehorse, NWT, the diocese called for Catholics to gather at the CYO Hall the evenings of Jan. 28, Feb. 11 and March 11. In Antigonish four area deaneries were to have held meetings and submitted responses before the end of February. Victoria Bishop Gary Gordon called for open meetings at three parishes in Victoria, Nanaimo and Courtenay between Feb. 10 and Feb. 22.
In Kingston, London, Hamilton and Calgary the dioceses have designed online surveys using the free SurveyMonkey.com service.
In many cases dioceses are streamlining the process by asking fewer and simplified questions, without discouraging those who wish to offer longer answers to more questions. Most provide links either to the Vatican’s version of the lineamenta document with questions or to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ version which reorganizes the Vatican’s questions into four key areas of inquiry.
The deadlines are tight throughout the country, with bishops given a mid-March deadline to have reports into the CCCB. In Toronto and Winnipeg responses had to be in by Feb. 16. Victoria is asking for responses by March 6.
The bishops have to boil down responses they gather from ordinary Catholics, pastors, lay movements and others in a report to the CCCB. The CCCB then further boils down the responses it receives from 72 member dioceses in a report to the synod of bishops in Rome. In Rome the reports from bishops conferences around the world are gathered together for another document that will guide more than 400 participants at this fall’s synod.
With the prospect of writing a report summarizing responses from more than a million Catholics in 224 parishes who celebrate mass in more than 30 languages, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto asks people to “consider perhaps three areas or specific questions to provide informed commentary or insights. A concise response would be appreciated.”