A kinder and gentler Catholic Church

Posted on 08 Nov 2013 at 5:45am

The Vatican sends out a worldwide survey to its members, asking for parish-level input on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage

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WARM EMBRACE | Former Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop Kevin Farrell at the Vatican in 2012. Many people view Pope Francis as more progressive on issues in the survey, like same-sex marriage. (Courtesy photo)

STEVE RAMOS  |  Senior Editor

When the Vatican recently announced it was going to survey Catholics worldwide to get their thoughts on issues long considered anathema, including same-sex marriage, Mark Gonzales of Lewisville said, “No, thanks.”

“It’s too late,” he said. “After years of telling me I was going to hell for being gay, years of telling me I was not acceptable in God’s eyes, the Catholic Church now wants to know what I think about how it should treat gays. Well, it’s a little too late. The damage has been done. Believe me, the Vatican does not want me to answer that survey.”

The 39-question survey, sent out Oct. 18 to bishops around the world, is unprecedented, some church officials say. It’s a sign of the Catholic Church opening up to change and increasing pastoral care regardless of a believer’s background.

Still, Gonzales won’t budge.

“Think about someone who is in an abusive relationship for years,” he said. “The abuser tells the victim over and over that he’s worthless, that he has no value and that there is something wrong with who he is. The victim tries to change, but he can’t because you just can’t change how you were born.

“It’s like telling someone with blue eyes he has to have green eyes. So after years of horrible abuse, the victim escapes. Then later, the abuser wants to talk about how the victim feels. Are you kidding me?”

Pope Francis, who some see as more progressive than his predecessors, ordered the survey distributed as an information-gathering tool before the Synod of Bishops. The synod, ordered to meet by the pope, is a gathering of the church’s bishops. They will meet Oct. 5-19, 2014, and is focused on the theme “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”

Information gleaned from the survey will be discussed at the synod.

“The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world, is becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission concerning the family,” the Vatican survey said.

The survey, along with questions concerning same-sex marriage, also solicits opinions on contraception and out-of-wedlock relationships.

Referring to gay couples, one question asks, “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?”

Also, “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting faith?”

Jennifer Anzalone, who moved to Dallas from Massachusetts eight years ago, said she welcomes the survey.

“I never totally left the church, even though I’m deeply troubled by its position on gays and women,” she said. “There’s a lot about the church I love, so I’ve had this love-hate relationship with it. I get angry with its homophobic messages because I’m gay, so I learned to hunker down and walk through that storm because I’m not prepared to leave the church.”

Anzalone is hopeful the Vatican will change its position and evolve in its teachings and its role in the world. She sees the survey as the beginning of a transformation in the church’s position on controversial topics.

“If the church is alive, then it should change to meet current needs,” she said. “It’s been stagnant for too long, and it’s a good thing they’re putting this survey out because the last thing the church needs is another Reformation.”

Anzalone is referring to the split in the Catholic Church, sparked by Martin Luther in 1517, which created the Protestant denominations.

“That’s what happens when the church refuses to reform,” she added. “People leave.”

According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide, and they account for the largest Christian denomination in the United States. However, the church has been plagued with an exodus of its members in recent years. The National Catholic Reporter said one in 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic.

“If ex-Catholics were counted as their own religious group, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists,” the Reporter said.

The church’s stance on gays is the second biggest reason Catholics have left the church, according to research conducted by William J. Byron, a professor of business at St. Joseph’s University and Charles Zech, founder of the Center for the Study of Church Management of Villanova’s School of Business.

Explaining the departure of so many Catholics, Zech said the church needs “a more pastoral approach to people.” Thus, the recently distributed survey that Gonzales, an ex-Catholic, wants no part of.

“What’s the church going to do with this information?” he asked. “OK, they’re asking for input, but do you know how many years it will take the church to change, even if it does? There are too many lay people, priests, bishops and cardinals who will fight the church if it decides to accept gays, allow the use of contraception and let divorced people go to Communion. I’ll be dead by the time it happens.”

Perhaps. The Human Rights Campaign recently reported church leaders were the second-largest donors in the fight against marriage equality in 2012, investing nearly $2 million in the failed attempts to write discrimination into the Minnesota Constitution and the fight against marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCB) also recently wrote members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, outlining their opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas wasn’t available for comment about the survey.

Diocese spokeswoman Annette Gonzales-Taylor said the bishop plans to distribute the survey online to make it accessible to the 74 parishes in the diocese.

“Bishop Farrell needs the results by Dec. 15, and they will then be condensed into a document that will be sent to the USCB,” Gonzales-Taylor said. “Rome wants those reports by the end of January [2014].”

Like many Catholics, Gonzales-Taylor believes the survey is a show of the pope’s “inclusiveness and kindness.”

Still, Mark Gonzales is steadfast in his refusal to participate.

“If the church really is open to change, then instead of sending out this survey, it should begin by getting on its knees and begging the forgiveness of every person it has damaged and hurt with its homophobic and misogynistic teachings,” he said. “Maybe then I’ll believe the Vatican cares.”
To view the survey, visit TinyURL.com/VaticanSurvey.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 8, 2013.

 

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