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The pope's popularity: Wasted opportunity?

Conservative Catholics' disappointment in Pope Francis has been discussed for a while now, but as for any subject, its appearance on the front page of The New York Times has a way of raising its profile.

My reaction to reading Laurie Goodstein's article today is that  the wave of good feeling toward Pope Francis may well turn out to be a wasted opportunity for the U.S. Catholic Church. In addition to the bloggers and activists quoted in the article, even some bishops greeted his recent interviews with grumbling. They and other conservative critics of the pope should realize that they've been handed a great opening for evangelization.

When was the last time the church in the U.S. had such a chance to reach out to lapsed and alienated Catholics?

I would venture that the pope's popularity is an opportunity for the pro-life movement as well. Its message has a much better chance to achieve a true majority if it is linked to the broader range of priorities the pope has been talking about. As one activist quoted in the article notes, the pope has not sold out the pro-life movement.

I am interested to hear  if you've noticed any effective follow-up on the parish or diocesan level to the warm public response to Pope Francis's interviews.



About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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I believe that the greatest contribution Francis is making is centering on the main mission of Jesus. Preaching the Gospel to the poor. This is a core belief which has really suffered since the fourth century with people like Francis of Assissi and others beckoning the church back to its core mission. For 17 centuries clergy has been catering to the rich. The opportunity is to return to the core mission.

Mr. Moses - not to point fingers but to try to respond to your questions:

Dallas Diocese - received the diocesan paper Friday.  Front page article about the Texas Appeals Court decision to negate a lower court stoppage of the recently passed Texas abortion law that requires abortion clinic doctors to have hospital privileges.  Article used the typical and usual *anti-abortion* language and trumpeted this appeals court decision as a core pro-life move.

Facts - yes, this is an anti-abortion directive (but to argue that it is pro-life in the way Francis understands this term is going too far). and balanced investigations indicate that this TX law will cause upto 45 (out of 55) clinics to close;  there is no evidence that MDs at clinics need to have hospital privileges (in some cases, the nearest hospital is a one or more hour drive away); clinics provide life-saving procedures beyond just abortions for a mostly minority and poor clientele (majority are anglo, interestingly, in TX); 95% of the clientele are female, etc.   Thus, it is difficult for many catholics to see this as a *pro-life* decision or something to be *cheered*.

At the same time in Texas and on the subject of Pro-Life - the diocesan bishop says nothing about the state's decision to not participate in expanding Medicaid insurance coverage (studies indicate that it will leave 1.5 million without insurance); nothing about the fact that Texas has more uninsured tha any other state; or that Texas leads the nation in folks in poverty (60+% being children).  This same bishop had a chance to support and ask local parishes to support an initiative to provide booklets that explain, help access, and give resources (appointments, computer access, navigators, etc.) for the Affordable Care Act (again, the USCCB's partisan stand on this can be interpreted as anti-life?).  BTW, in the face of the governor's opposition to ACA, navigators (he suspended federal dollars to train/certify them), local counties with county and not for profit hospitals and even county governments (Houston, Dallas) have come together to get navigators qualified; to offer scheduled appointments to help folks sign up; and, in some cases, to even cover the healthcare insurance premiums (that tax credits don't cover).  Why?  In Dallas alone, the county hospital had $800 million in unreimbursed costs last year (primarily ER visits from uninsured; 50% from outside Dallas County).  And this says nothing about the fact that more than 1/2 million residents can't sign up because they are not legal (immigration issue) and yet - nothing in the diocesan paper.

Our diocesan paper has been quite positive in reporting on Pope Francis.  The  Archbishop, Gregory Aymond (who is regarded generally as a moderate), speaks very positively of him, and he has even publicly supported Obamacare and is against the death penalty and for helping the poor more.  The local Times-Picayune also reports that the rector of the seminary says that the seminarians are excited by Francis' message.  And the diocesan spokeswoman said,  “There’s definitely at lot of discussion about it. It seems to have been … very well received among Catholics.”

So things seem to be going well here, though given the number of conservatives here I'm sure there must be some quiet grumbling.

Pope Francis seeks change in church style, Archbishop Gregory ...


New Orleans Catholicism has long been on the liberal side.  I don't know what the situation is in other parts of the state.  

I think the basic problem is that the traditionalists never wanted the changes brought about by Vatican II.  For the last thirty -five years they have gotten their way as JPII, and then, even more vigorously, Benedict rolled back Vatican II.  Now they have a Pope, the first who did not attend the council, who is fully committed to Vatican II they are in a panic, because they fear they are going to lose all that they have gained.  The question is whether they should have gained it in the first place. Pope Francis has a big tent view of the Church and has welcomed everyone.  The fact that they do not feel welcomed says more about them than him.  

I think we need to be careful not to all become ultramontaines. This is difficult in a media driven age and the fact that the Pope is easy to centralize as the pivotal figure for Roman Catholics. But is this wise? Is it wise to invest so much actual (Vatican I and the pope having full ordinary jurisdiction over the whole church (ack!!) and now symbolic power vested in the bishop of Rome. What if the next pope is a Tridentine loving remote, distant pope. Does that mean, the whole character of the church swings to private devotions and away from the mission to the poor?

Granted a papal election, like any election, signals particular directions. But do remember that this election was about reform; reform of the Curia, reform of the bank, reform of the clergy; reform of the total criminal way in which the Vatican has handled the abuse crisis.

We need more than symbolic actions of living in an apartment, driving a simple car, washing the feet of a woman, etc, etc. I do not discount the value of symbols but at the same time i would prefer a less public and more effective cleaning of the stables.

John Paul II apologized for the sins of some members of the church and that was a postive step and this purification of memory needs to continue and be more explicit. There still needs to be more repentence, more sobriety, more reform.

As Flannery O'connor said to expect to much is to be sentimental and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. Charity is hard but endures. Appealing to sentimentality and superficial affect is a dangerous tactic. That is not to say that I have not appreciated the sermons posted on here and his reflections (as I did Benedicts and as I do many others). It is just that I don't want to get awash in the emotion of the moment. Been there done that with other leaders.

Praying, pondering and doing what I can in my little corner. And yes, I have my own repentance and conversion to worrry about.

I admire a lot about Pope Francis as a person of compassion and empathy. I agree with Bill Mazella that he is moving a lot of people (including me) to think about the poor and marginalized and to consider our Christian commitment to them.

But how does any change in in the mood or message of the papacy makes a difference for the fallen away? The deal is still that in order to get back to the Table, you have to confess the sins the Church has defined for you, and you have to, in good conscience, say you're going to accept its teaching. Moreover, you still have the same priest and parishioners going about business as usual.

Today was the Men's Club breakfast, and the chief order of business at the meeting after was whether to purchase a counter-top deep fryer to allow the quantity of french fries keep up with the amount of fish on Fish Fry Fridays. The kids are practing carols to sing at the old folks home (and about half of them will actually go because they are terrified of the place). There is a Living Nativity bus trip planned. Turkey bingo is being held ($2 per card with corn kernel markers for the cards for added fun!). No mention of collecting anything for the Methodist Ladies' poor baskets for Thanksgiving as in previous years, so I gotta call over there to see where to drop off stuff. 

Nothing I can see that indicates anybody wants a bunch of Bad Catholics back in the fold.

I guess I'm a disaffected Catholic and though Francis has disappointed me so far with his take on women, it does make a real difference to me to finally have a pope I can respect and like and admire.

Crystal, I'm interested in your comments. Yes, I think Pope Francis is a warm-hearted guy who exudes decency and encouragement. But the pope isn't the Church. How does he change your view of the faith or the Church?


Jean Raber

The deal is still that in order to get back to the Table, you have to confess the sins the Church has defined for you, and you have to, in good conscience, say you're going to accept its teaching.

​I am not sure that Pope Francis is saying this.  I think, like Cdl Martini. SJ he wants to give everyone a place at the table.  That was Martini's version of The Court of the Gentiles, which Benedict basically misunderstood.  At the Jerusalem Temple, The Court of th Gentiles was not the palce where inter-religious ideas were exchanged.  Martine, a biblical scholar ujderstood this well amd so he talked about "a place at thetable."  This is what upsets the trads, that Francis is accepting everyone and has made room for them at the table.


My feelings about the church are complicated.  I became a believing Christian through a Jesuit retreat, so I'm a Catholic because of the spirituality.  But I don't agree with a lot of the doctrines and I think the leadership is fairly corrupted - to get a pope who is  (as far as I can tell) honest, humble, compassionate, gives me hope that the bad things in the church can be changed for the better and that the church may someday represent in its structure and actions what it purports to teach.  I guess Francis gives me hope that someday I can be proud of my church instead of ashamed.

So Bill, you're surely not assertng that for 1700 years the Church has been teaching error?  If you are simply pointing out a shift in emphasis, that is one thing, so I take it that's what you meant.

If Pope Francis wins applause for his informality, shouldn't Pope Benedict also get some credit? He's been recently photographed wearing a white baseball cap.  My suggestion - liberals should adopt clown noses and consevatives baseball caps as ways of displaying their most profound commitments.

Pope Francis was quoted at length Sunday on the subject of hope by the deacon who did the homily. But I haven't seen much effort to integrate or explain Pope Francis on a local level. There seems to be more interest in the pope in the pews, based on the (of course) always inaccurate secular (hiss, boo) media, than there is among designated leaders.

But there wasn't much effort to amplify Pope Benedict, either. And it took about 15 years before the local church noticed that the universal church was led by the rock star before him.

I absolutely think this is an opportunity to promote a prolife agenda.  If the Church can shift gears somewhat and emphasize that we value life at all of its stages, and for all people, it makes our anti-abortion position more compelling. If we're "just" anti-abortion, we come off  hypocritical, I think. 

And I don't think we should give too much weight- or too much ink-  to the small minority of Catholics who think the Pope isn't prolife enough.   That universe-the  American Life League types- seem to thrive on finding the rest of us lacking in this area; it's no suprise that even the Pope doesn't meet their standards.

Re: local impact. I haven' seen anything different at my parish, though my husband says he was at a Mass (right after the "who am I to judge" remark) where the homily focused on how nothing at all was different under Pope Francis; that his comments don't signal any kind of change.   But I just chalked that homily up to wishful thinking on the part of the speaker.

This is a great topic.  FWIW, I preached about Pope Francis a couple of months ago, talking about how much I loved the signs and symbols.  Feedback from folks in the pews was tremendous.  There is a lot of excitement about him.

That said,  though - it's not always clear how the things a parish does day-to-day should change in reaction to this pope's (or any pope's) views and priorities.  There is rarely a direct line, such that when the pope expresses a wish, people in parish leadership interpret it as a command and spring to fulfill it with alacrity.  A lot of what we do in parishes seems to run on inertia (cf Jean's descriptions of recent goings-on in her parish).  

It will take prayer, thought, discernment, and direction to realize whatever Pope Francis' practical problem is going to be.  I am fortunate to belong to a parish that actually places a premium on prayer, thought and discernment, and we block off significant time for these activities, involving clergy, parish staff and lay leadership.  But I suspect that we're the exception rather than the rule.  

One of my critiques of the US bishops, which I express here from time to time, is that they tend to be slow off the mark.  They meet as a conference only twice a year.  But the real world of events and developments doesn't adhere to a semi-annual schedule anymore.  If Francis' vision is to be realized to practical effect in our parishes and communities, our bishops are a necessary layer in that program, to help us determine how to translate the vision to practice. This RNS report by David G is very insightful about how the bishops are trying / grappling / struggling with this stuff.


What I wrote:

It will take prayer, thought, discernment, and direction to realize whatever Pope Francis' practical problem is going to be.

What I meant to write:

It will take prayer, thought, discernment, and direction to realize whatever Pope Francis' practical program is going to be.





Respect for the pope and popolotry are two different things. Conservatives caught up with JPII and Benedict may feel they are being abandoned. But was it these popes to whom they were faithful or the teachings of Jesus? (Nor did everyone interviewed in the Times story seem adverse to Francis's readjusted message on pro-life).

Liberals, yes you CWL bloggers (okay some of you), are in danger of a form of popolatry yourselves. I thought when Francis emphasized his title as Bishop of Rome and vicar of Peter he was readjusting the title inflation. Good for him. He is not liberal, and he is not conservative. What is actually invigorating about his reign so far is the enthusiasm he has engendered in the weary world and among weary Catholics.

Thanks for this post, and for an interesting comment thread.

In our parish, Francis' words and actions have several times been referenced by one or another of the homilists.

Not directly related to (but certainly consistent with) Francis' words about justice and the poor, the Mass. Catholic Conference (the bishops' lobbying arm) has endorsed a petition campaign aimed at raising the minimum wage to $10.50/hour and indexing it to inflation.  If successful, the petition would force the legislature to consider the bill early next year.  If the legislature fails to act, the petition/bill goes on the ballot as a referendum question for the voters next November.

(Several CCHD-supported faith-based organizations of the type described in this current Commonweal article are at the heart of the petition drive.)

Sometimes when I encounter the great enthusiasm for Francis among those who were disaffected during the previous two papacies, I think of this:

Guess who's Benedict and who's Francis? (Yes, I am being superficial. Sort of). My point is, Nixon was back on top soon enough. Dame Fortuna is always turning her wheel, and those riding high today will be crushed beneath its weight soon enough.

IOW, enjoy this while it lasts, but don't get cocky. You're gonna get yours, too. Again.


But how does any change in in the mood or message of the papacy makes a difference for the fallen away? The deal is still that in order to get back to the Table, you have to confess the sins the Church has defined for you, and you have to, in good conscience, say you're going to accept its teaching.

The term "fallen away" should not be used. It implies that most people leave the Roman Catholic church without thought, without considered judgment, without "cause". That may be true of some (most likely those who were baptized but never really actively part of the church), but for most former Catholics, it is not true.

We did not “fall away” - we made a choice and we walked away from the church because we could not remain in "good conscience". 

We walked away for an entire spectrum of reasons. Some of the most common may include reasons often condemned by some active Catholics (boredom at mass, irrelevance of homilies and the church in general in their lives, nasty treatment at the hands of a priest or parish staff etc). They also often include changes in life status (marriage, divorce, remarriage), the failure of Rome to hold bishops accountable for enabling the rape and abuse of kids, and dissent from church teachings, especially those related to gender, sex, sexuality, and marriage. I left primarily because of the hierarchy of the church choosing to protect an institution and the priests who molested the young instead of protecting the young and Rome’s failure to hold bishops accountable, and also because of the church's teachings on women and the denial of a sacrament based on gender alone and all that flows from denying women an equal role in church governance and in developing/defining teachings.  Since I believe that denying women an equal role in the church and mandatory celibacy have both contributed to the distorted views that laid the foundation for the officials of the church choosing to protect pedophiles instead of kids, I believe that mandatory celibacy should also be dropped. It would be easy to do - it's not taught as "dogma".

Like Crystal, I am happy to see a pope who is reaffirming the gospel and core values taught by Jesus. After years of increasing ecclesial “conspicuous consumption” emphasizing worldly values of materialism and wealth, it is refreshing to have a pope who seems to understand the inherent contradiction demonstrated to the world by the lifestyles of many of the hierarchy (the "princes") of the church and those of Jesus and the disciples. I like Francis, his warmth, his (relative) simplicity, his refusal to act as a monarch instead of a “papa”.  If the church didn't "demand" that I accept teachings that I cannot in good conscience accept, he would bring me back to a Catholic pew. I have spent Sundays in an Episcopal church for more than five years now.

I am just one of the tens of millions of formerly active Catholics in the US who have left.  Can I come back? Probably not - for exactly the reasons you state. I dissent strongly from some church teachings and I believe they cause tangible harm to many. I dissent from the "infallibly" proclaimed teaching that women cannot be ordained as priests. The (magisterium) church may have to find a way to backtrack on some teachings to bring some back  - in "good conscience". Changing teachings may be too high a price in lost face for those who have painted themselves into corners proclaiming that the church “never” changes its teachings because it is “infallible”. The (magisterium) church hates to lose face - cannot admit to ever having been wrong in its interpretations or understanding because it is "infallible". Maybe in revisiting teachings, it should begin with that particular disastrous legacy of Pius IX.  (They are clever men – surely they can find a way to change that teaching while still proclaiming that they never change teachings.) Thus the official church clings to its teaching on birth control, a teaching not received by 90%+ of  THE church, at least in the west. Many in poor countries have no access to reliable modern birth control, so its a non-issue. The "poll" Rome sent out seems almost unbelievably clueless about rejection of the teaching on contraception, given the wording of the questions related to birth control and natural law. Rome, including Francis so far, also clings to its teaching that it is God who has willed that women be forever cast in subservient roles to the men of the church and to their own husbands, etc. and that they are defined primarily, if not exclusively, by their biological role in reproduction.

So, if Francis truly wants to return to a big tent Catholicism after decades of shrinking induced by an overemphasis on a narrow definition of "orthodoxy", then he will have to send some real signals soon - not just those of mercy and forgiveness, but signs of rethinking some teachings. He is doing so (it seems) in regards to marriage/divorce/remarriage/the sacraments, perhaps moving closer to the Orthodox on this.  But he clings to his fond vision of  his grandmother, of woman as madonna primarily, if not exclusively, in a way that he would never think to apply to men as fathers primarily.  He seems also to be moving in some way towards finding practical ways to welcome the children of gay parents to the sacraments, if not their parents.  There seems to be no movement towards changing the teaching on birth control, unfortunately, which could be easily done by simply revisiting the report of the Birth Control commission. I have read that Paul VI had a spokesman once clarify that HV is not "infallible", although I can't cite a source right now.   If that is the case, changing that teaching would be a tremendous move towards restoring credibility for Rome when speaking on matters of sexuality, sex, and marriage - teachings mostly ignored by most Catholics in the west for decades now. He could also revisit the study done by a papal commission of biblical scholars in the 1970s on what scripture "says" about women and the priesthood.  The conclusion was that there is nothing in scripture that "demands" banning women from Holy Orders. Like the report of the Birth Control Commission, the study was ignored, presumably because it did not come up with the pre-determined conclusion sought by those who commissioned it.

Jean, you refer to the sins that the church has "defined for you" and the requirement that those seeking to return to the Catholic church accept all teachings in "good conscience".  Perhaps there is a loophole. A straightforward and honest redefinition of some teachings would be the best course. But a renewed emphasis on the hierarchy of truths would help, and Francis has mentioned that.  In addition, a return to a definition of "primacy of conscience" that  means what it says would also be a way to permit some to return in good conscience. But it would mean eliminating Benedict's definition in the CCC that essentially equates "properly formed" with "100% alignment" with Rome's definitions.

My take on the reactions here to Laurie Goodstein's article is that for the ideologues on the Catholic-right for sure, not even a year into his papacy the bloom off the rose as far as the Jesuit pope is concerned.

How could Bergoglio rise to the rank of cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, then be elected pope without the support of the most reactionary ideologues in the conclave?

How could Papa Francesco now so easily turn his back on the very men with very dark purposes who elected him just a few months ago?

How could Papa Francesco embrace thinking and practice that the ideologues consider subversive?

I'm not buying it.  That being said, Papa Francesco is no "Nixon," nor is he just "lucky" as some would contend.

Nonetheless, what a difference a conclave can make!  Just nine months ago we had a pope who was hopelessly embroiled in Vatican-insider knife-fighting among papal courtiers.  

Now we have a pope who embodies and projects the humility of the Christ, especially when he says, "Whom am I to judge?"

What the conservative, right-wing ideologues really can't abide, unlike their darling "moral relativism" Grand Inquisitor pope, is that Papa Francesco for all his conservative principles is really a gifted pastor and shepherd.

Get over it, right-wing.  Francesco isn't going to live forever. 

OK - could someone with edit capabilities please eliminate the duplicate verbiage.  It would really help if the commenters had a tool to do this themselvesl.

Good God, Jenkins--did you actually think that you were supposed to take away from that that Francis was Nixon?

Oh Boy! Here comes trouble:

Pope's Ambassador Tells US Bishops to Live Simply   

Agree with Anne Chapman about "fallen away."  An unfortunate blame-the-victim phrase.  For many, "driven away" would be more accurate.  

Telling bishops to live simply?  LOL  Even my all-time fave, Edwin Vincent O'Hara, sailed first class on his many trips to Europe.



Anne and Gerelyn, thanks for your thoughts on the term "fallen away Catholic." I didn't mean to give offense.

I left the Table because some of the Church's teachings struck me as hard and tough to swallow. I am not persuaded that I am right and the Church is wrong about these things. And I haven't left the Church; I continue to go to Mass (though sometimes just to maintain marital harmony). I don't want to be a Protestant. So what would I call myself? Lapsed (like a magazine subscription)? A Bad Catholic (everyone hates that moniker)? A partial Catholic? 

Pope Francis seems like a humble and inspiring man who leads by example. He has earned my respect and certainly I pay attention to what he says. But he's not the Church.

FWIW, and I hope this doesn't sound too cynical, I don't think those little surveys the Vatican is planning are going to do those of us "left behinds" (yikes, worse than "fallen away") much good. When PR firms do surveys, it's not generally to change policy, but to figure out how to spin the old policy so it sounds better.


Hi, Jean.   

(In high school, I once used the term "non-Catholic" in speaking to a girl I had become friends with at work.  She said, "I'm not a non-Catholic; you're a non-Protestant.") 

I think many former or "recovering" or cafeteria Catholics feel that it is the Church that has fallen away, not them.  

People of my age cohort, e.g., went through parochial school, Catholic high school, and Catholic college without ever hearing about the issues that younger Catholics now regard as the only things that matter.  There was no Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It seems like a different Church today.   

What should you call yourself?  Whatever you want to.  Christian?  I don't see why people have to identify their position on the religious spectrum for others.  It's nobody's business.  

Agree that the survey is of no value.  Just as the John Jay study was WORTHLESS, so will this survey be.  For soooo many reasons.    

Jean Raber: How about Relaxed Catholic?

Jean: Why not just call yourself a Catholic?

I think this survey will be extremely valuable. I've been a Catholic my entire life and no one in any kind of "official" postion has ever asked me before what I believe about the issues covered by the survey.  Even if no concrete changes come out of the results, I think it is just huge that there is a process for people in the pews to begin to weigh in. I hope the results are made public; I would like to know how much my own beliefs/practicies are in step with other Catholics.

Thanks for the many interesting comments here. I'd like to follow up on what Crystal Watson wrote earlier by noting that a survey in Italy has suggested that there is indeed a "Francis effect" that is bringing people back to church:

Those who do not believe that this survey will  reveal the depth and breadth of belief and practice among Catholics, even if targeted only to those still in the pews on Sunday are most likely correct. Reaching those who are no longer in those pews every week is an even more challenging task and I doubt seriously that many bishops will try - that they even want to hear from former Catholics anyway, except perhaps from those to whom their Coming Home programs might appeal.

Jean, you are still a practicing Catholic - you go to mass.  Most would simply call you a Catholic, but if you need a qualifier and don't like "cafeteria" (every Catholic is a cafeteria Catholic but some are in denial), then just Catholic will do. I would call you a thinking Catholic. You are not "fallen away" - generally when one falls, it is an "accident".  You have not been "left behind" . That implies that you are not an active participant in the development of your own faith and relationship with God, and in deciding the church's "proper" role in that relationship,  but were accidently left behind, and that is not true. You are making choices of what to accept and what to reject based on intellect and conscience. You are still in the pews and your problems with selected church teachings are due to thinking, not an accident.  You could simply say you are a Christian, although some use that description as a simplification of "evangelical Protestant Christian".  But Christian does cover it.  You still go to mass, you still maintain official ties with the church, so "none" or "sbnr" won't cover it either.

I haven't read the survey, but from what I've read about it, I have the impression that it's not really intended for "ordinary" (i.e., non-ordained) Catholics. 

If it is meant for the laity, where is it?  

Who wrote it?  What are his qualifications? 

How is it being disseminated?  Who is promulgating it?  

Who will read the responses and tally them?  

Who will interpret them?  What are the qualifications of those analysts?

Will the raw data be made available to the public?  Through what media?  Will the raw data be preserved for future study?  

If this survey is like the John Jay study, then some/much/most pertinent information will be withheld, and that which is released will be based on revisions of previously accepted definitions, etc. 

If this survey is like the questionnaire which women's religious congregations were required to answer, the results will not be made public.  

Should editors of Catholic web sites make the survey available online?  


I agree with Catherine.

I just read the questionnaire on the family.  As I had gathered from comments here and on NCR, it's for bishops, not for people raising families.

Gerelyn,  the wording of many questions assumes an in-depth familiarity with Vatican documents and concepts such as natural law that few laity possess. However, apparently the intent is to get at what the laity think about these matters. It is apparently up to the bishops to figure out how to do this, which means that the results will be fairly meaningless if the pope is really hoping to get into the minds of the laity.

The bishops of Great Britain have posted the questionnaire online and are asking laity to respond.  The bishops of Belgium have also posted it online, but they are asking laity to respond in whatever way they wish - not necessarily answering the questionnaire as written, but describing their beliefs and experiences.  The USCCB now meeting in Baltimore have raised the issue, and it sounds as though each bishop will decide what to do themselves. It does not appear that they will appeal to the laity. They may "consult" parish councils or diocesan councils, but appear to have no real interest in consulting with the people in the pews directly, much less those who seldom visit pews anymore. Their report for the Synod will most likely reflect their own beliefs rather than those of the laity.


In question 7.f, the bishops are asked, "How can an increase in births be promoted?"

I don't see how anyone who lives on this planet could think an increase in births is desirable.


The bishops of Great Britain have posted the questionnaire online and are asking laity to respond.  The bishops of Belgium have also posted it online, but they are asking laity to respond in whatever way they wish - not necessarily answering the questionnaire as written, but describing their beliefs and experiences. 

These approaches are interesting but possibly not any more enlightening than surveying parish council members.


The RCIA ladies misinformed me about membership in the Church. They said if you hadn't received in 10 years, you were automatically considered out. Maybe  just wishful thinking on their part cuz I looked it up, and once a Catholic, you continue to be considered a Catholic and bear the obligations of a Catholic, even if you are excommunicated.

Apparently, it's like the Hotel California: You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.

Apparently, it's like the Hotel California: You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.

More like "The Death of the Hired Hand" ?

‘Home,’ he mocked gently.


                                       ‘Yes, what else but home?

It all depends on what you mean by home.

Of course he’s nothing to us, any more

Than was the hound that came a stranger to us

Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’


‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in.’

Jim P,  I'm not sure anything the bishops do will lead to true discernment on the part of the hierarchy of the beliefs and insights of the laity.  Posting a poll that is difficult and wordy and long and very time-consuming to respond to will drive away many.  The Belgian bishops approach might work better because it is free-form, just inviting comments. 

Polling parish councils is like polling the choir. It won't give a true picture. In my experience, the membership of the parish council is not necessarily representative of the parish, even if elected by members of the parish. They tend to be far more committed than the average parishoner, have been very active for a long time in the parish, and tend to hang around with all the other parish activitists, who are usually the like-minded.  In most parishes, they may have no more real understanding of the beliefs of parishoners in general, or even of the true range of beliefs, than do the priests. Most Catholics don't go to confession, and among those who do, most go only once a year, so the confessional is not a good barometer of the entire parish. Those who go to confession regularly tend to be from the conservative side of the church anyway, so depending only on their revelations in the confessional would skew the results.  The parish council members most likely don't know the Catholics who are registered but don't show up every week, and maybe not even once/month.  Most suburban parishes in the DC metro area are huge - anywhere from 1500 to 4500 families (if a family has 4 people on average, well, you do the math), it is unlikely that they would know many of the every Sunday massgoers either.

The only way to do a survey that might have a chance at capturing the true beliefs of the majority of Catholics, including those who aren't at mass every Sunday, would be to commission survey professionals to do it, such as those at CARA or, even better, William D'Antonio's research team at Catholic University. In fact, if they want to save time, they might just use the surveys the CU team have been doing every five years for the last 20 years or more years.

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