November 15th, 2013
By John Clark
In a move that could signal a drastic change in the Catholic Churchâ€™s views towards divorce, Pope Francis asked his American bishops to conduct extensive polling of divorced members of the church, according to a report this week from CBS News.
Divorce has been a constant source of stress for the Catholic Church in recent decades, which has alienated many Catholics, and Pope Francis has made it known that he wants the Church to be more welcoming to all members, sources report.
And the Popeâ€™s request for a comprehensive survey of Americansâ€™ views on issues like divorce, same-sex marriage, and contraception, is an unprecedented move from the Vatican, according to experts on the religion.
â€œI think it’s definitely recognition that the teachings of the Church on these particular hot button topics are not being received as the Vatican would like them to be received,â€ said Father Martin, a Catholic expert.
American bishops were reportedly told to gather responses to a 38-question survey over the next three months. The responses will be mailed to the Vatican so Catholic authorities can review the information before holding a major summit on Catholic family life.
Church clergy, however, were quick to tell sources that the survey request does not necessarily signal an upcoming change in Church doctrine on these social issues.
But others believe the survey is a step towards potential changes in Church doctrine, or at the very least, a step towards discerning what Catholics actually practice in their everyday lives.
The survey reportedly asks questions like: â€œWhat questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacrament,â€ and, “Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same sex and equating it in some way to marriage.”
In recent weeks, Pope Francis made waves by saying that the Church should reduce its single-minded focus on issues like contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage, and instead focus on making people more comfortable with the Church.
Catholic teachings, however, leave little room for interpretation on these matters. For centuries, contraception has been considered a sin, and Church member who successfully divorce lawyer are not allowed to remarry in a Catholic Church.
And while the survey may not lead to dramatic shifts in Church policy, it at least signals that the Church is not a totalitarian regime, and respects the views of non-clergy.
In the words of Father Martin, the â€œgreat saints and martyrs were often not popes and bishops, they were lay people and they were people who were mothers and fathers and lawyers and doctors.â€
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