The Surveys for the Synod on the Family Part III: Response from the US

When you first see the full, 46-question survey from Rome, you can’t help but wonder whether the leaders of the Church actually want to hear from anyone.

Mar 27, 2015

By Fr Jim McDermott, SJ
When you first see the full, 46-question survey from Rome, you can’t help but wonder whether the leaders of the Church actually want to hear from anyone.

And I mean anyone — people in the pews, professional Church folk, clergy, religious, even other bishops. Because as discussed, the full or “original” version is poorly worded, and overworded and long-worded; and just when you think they’ve finally run out of words, you have to read nine thousand more from a whole other complicated Church document to even know what the heck this one is asking. And each question demands its own short essay from you, to boot. No multiple-choice scantronning for the Catholic Church, thank you very much.

The timeline of the survey process does little to dispute this point. The US dioceses were given their translation of the original Italian documents in mid-December; between the holidays and trying to figure out how they want to solicit feedback, that meant that most dioceses weren’t able to get a survey instrument up and going until late January at the very earliest — and most a few weeks later.

But at the same time, Rome wants all its responses back by the end of March. Given that any diocese using a fill in the blank format (which seems to be most of them) will have to try and pull coherent themes from potentially thousands of individual comments, on up to 46 different questions, this leaves little time to actually solicit the opinions themselves.

And so, while some dioceses have kept their surveys open a full month, others have given the listening process just two weeks. Which means, if you missed Mass the wrong weekend, or didn’t catch the right issue of the diocesan newspaper, you could very well have missed hearing about this process. Parishioners from a number of major dioceses have told me that they have yet to hear anything about the survey process. These are people who are active in their parishes and in the Church; and in some such cases, it turns out their diocesan process is already complete.

But here’s the thing — the process has, in fact, varied from diocese to diocese. Yes, there are major dioceses that have been content to simply reproduce the 46 questions as the questions of their survey, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Each of the dioceses I consulted proceeded in the way of a collaborative effort that was hoping to actually reach people.

As it turns out, this may actually be a significant misunderstanding of the purpose of the original text. As a staffer at one diocese explained to me, the questions Rome sent were for the bishops to answer, based on the surveys they conduct, rather than being the survey the faithful themselves must address.

Not everyone would agree with such an interpretation. But it certainly would explain the original questions’ strange and off-putting tendency to keep referring back to documents that most people haven’t read, and would have trouble reading. Because, unlike most of us, the bishops are already very familiar with these documents.

A final interpretation of the Church’s choice of surveys looks to something completely different: resources. Some dioceses have more resources than others, both in terms of money and personnel. And that meant that their surveys could be more innovative or, at the least, user-friendly.

Having the right people to shepherd this process — their value is undeniable. But not every diocese has access to such people. At some point, you just have to settle.

For, as much as we are used to surveys, having our opinions solicited, town halls, etc., our Church is not. So mistakes, glitches, wrong turns are bound to happen. The best that we can hope for, is that we learn from them.

And also, of course, that our opinions will be sought once again.

Source: America

Total Comments:0