The Vatican has taken a highly unusual step in asking bishops around the world to find out what Roman Catholics think about church teachings in some areas that have become controversial, including birth control, divorce, and same-sex marriage.
Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Vatican's Synod of Bishops, sent out the survey October 18, asking bishops to reach out "immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so the input from local sources can be received." Baldisseri asked for results by the end of January.
The Vatican document said there are "many new situations requiring the Church's attention," including same-sex union adoptions, polygamy, mixed or inter-religious marriage, an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood, and "forms of feminism hostile to the Church."
It is not clear how U.S. Catholic bishops will respond to the directive. The general-secretary of the U.S. bishops conference, Monsignor Ronny Jenkins, in an October 30 letter to American bishops, asked only for "observations of the members of the conference" and not the opinions of ordinary Catholics.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops conference, Helen Osman, said in an email Thursday each U.S. bishop will "determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome."
The Bishops Conference of England and Wales has posted a survey online that Catholics in their countries can use to respond to the questions.
Included among the questions are "how is God's mercy proclaimed" to separated, divorced and remarried couples and how churches can respond when gays seek a religious education or Holy communion for their children.
The online National Catholic Reporter was the first to report news of the survey Thursday, providing links to Baldisseri's letter, as well as a letter from the U.S. bishops conference.
The National Catholic Reporter said the poll is the first time the church's central hierarchy has asked for input from "grass-roots Catholics" since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council.
The results of the world-wide survey will be discussed at a Vatican synod, or meeting, on the family in October 2014, presided over by Pope Francis. A second synod on the family will be held in 2015.
Pope Francis has denounced what he called the "Vatican-centric" nature of the church's administration. He said that many inside the Vatican had looked only after Vatican interests, neglecting, in his words, "the world around us."
Pope Francis said last month too many previous popes have been "narcissists, flattered and thrilled by the courtiers" inside the Vatican. The pontiff said the church must "restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love."