People pulse on For a synodal Church Synod of Synodality

As soon as the Synod on Synodality 2021-2023 was announced the Indian Catholic Forum (ICF) was among the first off the blocks.

Apr 29, 2022

As soon as the Synod on Synodality 2021-2023 was announced the Indian Catholic Forum (ICF) was among the first off the blocks. It organized an online survey in English, using Google Forms.

It was an attempt to gauge the pulse of the people, the Vox Populii or Sensus Fideii (sense of the faithful) that the Synod earnestly seeks. This Sense of the Faithful needed an atmosphere free from fear of retribution for speaking out. It was for this reason, as also Covid related restrictions that the ICF opted for an online survey that guaranteed confidentiality.

The Forum itself is a loose knit grouping of laity, clergy and religious that is committed to the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church as envisaged by Vatican II and now being reiterated by Pope Francis and his synodal path.

Every methodology has its advantages and disadvantages. While confidentiality was a major plus point, the language (English) and online access was a minus point, limiting the number of respondents to a particular class of educated, tech savvy, English speaking people. The Survey had a total of 72 questions with 7 options each, a total of over 500 options, enough to deter the faint hearted. We need to bear this in mind while analyzing the results of the survey.

It was divided into three major sections: A. Respondent’s Profile B. Respondent’s Value/ Belief system and C. The Questionnaire. This last had 8 sections. Each question had to be answered on a scale of 0 – 5 with an additional option of “Unable to answer”, for those unfamiliar with the question/issue. This system, though complex, ensured not just confidentiality, but also objectivity and a scientific approach avoiding the Yes/ No binary.

A. Respondent’s Profile
As mentioned, the form and its methodology limited the respondents to a particular segment of the Church. 62 percent of them were male and 66 percent were in the 51 plus age band. Again, 65 percent were post graduates or its equivalent. 74 percent were laity, 12 percent clergy, 18 percent religious, with one bishop thrown in.

Among the laity, 73 percent were married and 31 percent had a monthly family income exceeding 100,000 rupees. Among the married, 94 percent had a Catholic spouse. 79 percent belonged to the Latin Rite, 11 percent to the Syro-Malabar Rite, and surprisingly 10 percent said that they didn’t know to which Rite they belonged.

This profile is not reflective of the composition of the community of whom 99 percent are laity, while the numbers of educated and financially sound are disproportionately high. We need to critically examine the Survey findings in this light that the respondents are an elite section of the community, thereby influencing their choices. We can also look at it positively that this is an enlightened and committed group concerned about the Church.

B. Value/Belief System
This would help us better understand the responses. An overwhelming 83 percent said that they attend the Sunday liturgy regularly and 94 percent always received Communion. 89 percent said that they participated out of love for God and neighbour, while 2 percent admitted going out of fear of going to Hell if they didn’t!

Despite this religious fervor only 29 percent said that they frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) with 20 percent saying that they had stopped the practice. 87 percent believed in the Sacrament of Matrimony as an eternal and exclusive bond. Though 72 percent believed that the non-baptised would not go to Hell, a significant 7 percent was still packing them off to damnation. 92 percent claimed to pray daily, while 54 percent meditated on the Bible every day.

On the social front 72 percent said that they always exercised their franchise in elections, 75 percent said that they had played the Good Samaritan during the Covid pandemic and a surprisingly high 85 percent claimed not to use plastic disposables and carrying their own shopping bags. These responses would indicate that the respondents are good Christians and responsible citizens. On the other hand it could mean that they were just ticking the right boxes.

C. Questionnaire
The questions had to be answered on a scale of 0 – 5 depending on the level of agreement. There was also the “Unable to answer” option. The mean of 0 – 5 is 2.5. Since these questions are impersonal there seems to be more forthrightness in answering them.

1. About the Synod
The awareness level was 2.9 (against the mean of 2.5), but the satisfaction level with the preparations for the Synod was lower at 1.9, with 24% unable to answer. If they were clubbed with the mean it would drop to less than 1, indicating very poor preparation for the Synod. Would one’s voice be heard in the Synod; the response was less than 2 with 15% unable to answer. Hence at the primary level itself the organizers of the Synod need to sit up and take notice.

2. Spiritual Catechetical Issues
Satisfaction with the reform and renewal after Vatican II was 2.3. Awareness level of contemporary church documents was 2.5. Nevertheless, propounding of Vatican II teachings in Sunday sermons was a very low 1.3, as was faith formation and adult catechesis at 1.8. Marriage preparation scored slightly higher at 2.4. The fraternal relationship between clergy/ laity envisaged by Vatican II was a dismal 1.6. The attitude towards inter faith marriages was slightly higher at 2.2. The bottom line is that in its primary duty of teaching and sharing the faith, the Church has failed miserably.

3. Parish Level Issues
Satisfaction with parish councils/ finance committees is at 2.0, yet 3.6 want such “advisory’ bodies to be made mandatory, with decision making powers. Despite its huge investment in education the satisfaction levels are just above par. Health and social welfare services are lower at 2.2 each. Affluent members helping the less fortunate is also below par at 2.3. Woman’s status in the church is at 2.5. Despite another huge investment in youth organizations their preparedness for life is just 1.9. Finding suitable marriage partners within the community is problematic at 2.8. Overall, there is a strident call for a more participatory church, which is what the Synod is all about.

4. Diocesan Level
As we go higher in the church hierarchy, satisfaction levels dip alarmingly. Just 2.4 see bishops as a caring elder, while 3.7 see them as ceremonial heads. Only 1.3 are satisfied with participation in pastoral planning. 3.7 believe that they should be involved in the selection of bishops and 3.9 expect them to be transferred every ten years. 3.7 want the minimum age for aspirants to the priesthood and religious life to be raised to 21 and 3.1 feel that the canonical provision of seeking “dispensation” from the bishop for an inter-faith marriage should be abolished. The writing is on the wall.

5. National Level
As we go up, satisfaction levels plummet further. Just 2.1 are satisfied with the functioning of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and 2.0 with the Apostolic Nunciature. There is also a high degree of ignorance about how these august bodies function. There is an urgent need to improve transparency and accountability through a Right to Information (RTI) system that scores a high 4.1. The need for Grievance Redressal Cells and Arbitration Boards is even higher at 4.4, and 4.3 want a computerised automatic recording system as in Govt offices or Customer Care Services for acknowledgement of correspondence/ complaints. Accountability and transparency are indeed the need of the hour.

6. Social Issues
Acceptance of Dalit Christians (of Scheduled Caste origin) is at 2.8 and for Tribals slightly higher at 3.1. At the same time 3.1 feel that Dalit Christians are still marginalized in general society which is why 4.4 support the demand for them to get Govt facilities on par with Dalits of other religions. As a community we fare well on the inter-religious front at 3.4, though on the ecumenical front we are a bit lower at 2.9. We seem irresponsible when it comes to the environment with 3.4 still using plastic/ thermocole disposables. Collective efforts to grow more trees are at 2.6. Our adaptation to local culture/ language is reasonably good at 3.3, but our social involvement through civic affairs, politics, trade unions, human rights etc is below par at 1.9. We are still an insulated, isolated church, not fully integrated into society.

7. Moral/Ethical Issues
Here views are expressed very strongly and often at divergence from official church teaching. Consultation with the laity on moral issues that affect them like marriage, divorce, annulment, family planning and sexual ethics score a low 1.3. Agreement with Natural Family Planning (NFP) is at 2.5 (bearing in mind the upper age profile of the respondents) though assistance for the same is much lower at 1.6. Automatic ex-communication of a woman procuring an abortion is not acceptable at 1.4, while there is strong support for Divorced and Remarried Catholics being admitted to Holy Communion at 4.4. In a clerically dominated church it seems to be terribly out of sync with the aspirations of the people. The fissures are visible and will increase with time.

8. Universal Issues
The Survey went beyond the social and parochial to address issues that impact the universal church. 3.4 felt that it had become more Roman (Europeanized) than Catholic (universal). A high 4.5 wanted strong lay representation at all levels of the synodal process. Clerical sex abuse cases have had a disastrous affect on the church say 4.0, and an even higher 4.5 agree with Pope Francis’ oft repeated statement that clericalism (complete domination by the clergy) is the biggest scourge in the church. Yet only 1.4 feels that his personal lifestyle (small car, small rooms) has had any impact on an obdurate and ostentatious clergy/ hierarchy/ religious. Similarly just 1.4 agrees that religious leaders do indeed have the “smell of the sheep”. This is disconcerting which is why hardly 1.8 agrees that the mere transfer of errant bishops/ priests involved in major financial scandals or sexual abuse is adequate justice. The findings of this Survey should be translated into law opine 4.1 and it should lead to the convening of Vatican III say 3.1. Support for women’s ordination stands at 3.1 and for married clergy at 2.8. Decentralisation of Vatican offices on the lines of the UN finds strong support at 4.1. It is hoped that these universal issues will be find an echo in different parts of the world.

This Survey was administered by Nelvin Johnny of Baroda, to whom the ICF is deeply indebted. The detailed report and pie charts are available on request from the ICF convener at or at 9415130822. The detailed report has already been sent to the Synod Secretariat at the Vatican and has been duly acknowledged. It has also been sent to several others involved in the Synodal process. It is hoped that this mammoth exercise in the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church to make it one of Communion, Participation and Mission, as envisaged by the Synod’s preparatory documents will bear fruit.--

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