Contrary to reports in the media and from the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Fr. Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, has said that Pope Francis is NOT expecting the world’s Catholics to answer the Synod’s questionnaire about contraception, divorced and re-married and gay marriage. Archbishop Baldisseri’s letter accompanying the Preparatory Document clearly states that the questions are meant for deaneries and parishes ’since the time available is short, I would appreciate if you would follow the most brief and practical institutional process.’
Vatican Radio reported:
‘It must be noted that the Holy See’s spokesman has already clarified that Pope Francis has not presented a questionnaire to Catholics worldwide to consult on homosexual unions and divorced persons, as some news outlets have reported. This assertion, made by Italian daily il Fatto Quotidiano among others, is “not true” and in fact, the basis is only the aforementioned document sent to bishops’ conferences throughout the world by the secretary general of the synod of bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, in preparation for the synod of bishops,” Fr. Federico Lombardi had told Catholic News Agency (CNA) Nov. 2.
He added that the synod, will be dedicated to “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” and will focus on pastoral responses to the problems of divorce and gay marriage, as well as other challenges to the health of families. But on Nov. 1, the National Catholic Reporter characterized the document sent to bishops’ conferences as “a Vatican survey asking (Catholics’) opinions on church teachings.” The same day, il Fatto Quotidiano, a leftist and populist publication based in Rome, wrote that “the decision of Francis to listen, on such delicate themes, to the voice of the faithful, is absolutely unprecedented.” In fact, the process of requesting input from around the world for a synod of bishops is well precedented; the previous Synod on the New Evangelization, held in 2012, also asked bishops’ conferences to encourage discussion of topics related to evangelization and summarize their findings.
Moreover, in his Oct. 18 letter asking that dioceses share the Preparatory Document for the 2014 synod “as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes,” Archbishop Baldisseri also noted that “since the time available is short, I would appreciate if you would follow the most brief and practical institutional process.” Fr. Lombardi responded, stressing that the questions “are not regarding the doctrinal position of the Church,” explaining that the document has solely an advisory character, forming part of the habitual “praxis” of the synod of bishops. The questions were given to the bishops of all the world’s dioceses on how to address pastoral questions and how to give assistance to persons in irregular family situations, among other things.
Fr Lombardi’s repudiation of the media’s misrepresentation of the Extraordinary Synod’s questionnaire is difficult to reconcile with Bishop Hines statement on Vatican Radio about the questionnaire:
Bishop Hines welcomes the decision to send out this questionnaire seeking input from lay Catholics around the world ahead of next year’s Synod describing it as “extremely significant” and saying it’s already received an enthusiastic feedback from the faithful. “It really responds to the desire for the people, the laity in the Church to be consulted on matters which concern them so deeply.” “Couples are delighted that they’re going to be involved in the consultations,” he says.
Bishops Hines also says he finds this initiative “extremely refreshing” but goes on to warn that “it will, of course, raise expectations (from the lay faithful) and we have to recognize that and be prepared to work at meeting those expectations in some way.”
When asked if he believes some of those expectations are likely to be met or whether they are over the top, the Bishop says “those expectations are the reality that we’re facing” and adds that he believes it is very positive that “the Church is facing the real challenges so openly and this in itself, is of huge pastoral benefit.”
Protect the Pope comment: Bishop Hines warning that the questionnaire raises expectations and that the Church ‘must recognize that and be prepared to work at meeting those expectations in some way’ is the reason why Fr Lombardi has so quickly repudiated the media’s misrepresentation of the Extraordinary Synod’s series of questions. This is why Fr Lombardi’s has stressed that the series of questions are not ‘extremely refreshing’ , are not unprecedented, but are what happens before every synod – bishops are asked to consult with their deaneries and parishes about the questions to be discussed in the synod. What’s unprecedented is that the Bishops’ Conference has added five introductory questions that turn the preparatory questions for bishops into a questionnaire for individuals. It will also extremely concern Archbishop Baldisseri and Fr Lombardi that Bishop Hines, and others, are saying that ‘“it will, of course, raise expectations (from the lay faithful) and we have to recognize that and be prepared to work at meeting those expectations in some way.” Again, this is why Fr Lombardi has stressed that the questions ’are not regarding the doctrinal position of the Church.’ The media and some Bishops Conferences are suggesting that the Extraordinary Synod is going to change the Church’s doctrine on contraception, divorced and re-married and gay marriage based on responses to this questionnaire. Fr Lombardi has spoken on behalf of the Holy See, saying the questions to bishops are not about changing doctrine.