Saturday, 25 January 2014 18:00

Synod questionnaire draws 334 diocesan responses

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Survey for Synod of Bishops reflects concerns for families, marriage

During December, clergy, religious and lay members of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois were invited to answer a questionnaire regarding the "Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization" that will be used to help prepare for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops scheduled in Rome for this-coming October. The Synod will proclaim the Gospel teaching on family and marriage in the face of today's challenges.

A preparatory document about the Synod, released in Vatican City, noted that "many new situations" require the church's attention and pastoral care and include "mixed or interreligious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry; the caste system; a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism that are hostile to the church; migration and the reformulation of the concept of family; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage; legislative proposals that devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; surrogate motherhood; and new interpretations of what is considered a human right."

The report also said that "Within the church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the sacrament of penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment."

The questionnaire contained nine questions that covered — among other topics — the church's teaching on the nature and purpose of the family; the "natural law" and how it impacts the union of a man and woman in marriage; living of faith in the family; cohabitation before marriage; same sex union; marriage outside of the church; contraception and natural family planning; how to make a family a more fruitful place to encounter Jesus Christ; and other special challenges or proposals related to the topic of family and marriage.

Responses were submitted through the diocesan website ( and also by mail and e-mail. Listening sessions were also conducted by several of the deans in the seven regional deaneries of the diocese.

Those who wanted to answer the questions had just a few weeks to do so, but Marlene Mulford, chancellor of the Springfield diocese, said that given the short time-frame, she was pleased that there were 334 responses to the questionnaire. She said that 284 of the responses came through the diocesan website and 50 were either emailed or mailed in.

Statuses of the responders were: 247 (or 74 percent) married; 15 (or 4 percent) divorced; 50 (or 15 percent) single lay people; 20 (or 6 percent) clergy; and 2 (or 1 percent) religious.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki recorded the number of participants in a letter to Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, who is associate general secretary to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He also sent Msgr. Bransfield a report that indicated how the participants responded to each question, providing a summary of the general response to each question as well as frequent comments that came from the survey-takers.

For example, of the individuals who responded to a question of how people understand the church's teaching on the nature and purpose of the family, 75 percent said they don't understand the church's teaching, 22 percent said they do understand and 3 percent felt "neutral" about the question.

When it came to answering one of the more open-ended questions, "How might the family be made a more fruitful place to encounter Jesus Christ?" the answers were numerous and varied: encourage family prayer time; offer more family events and programs at (parish) churches; encourage homilies on Christian family life; and suggestions that families should model Jesus, among others.

The final question on the survey asked what challenges and proposals are urgent and useful to address as they relate to the topic of family and marriage. Some of the responses to that question were: offer formation on parenting and marriage enrichment; elevate marriage to a higher state so children can see it is special; adult catechesis; energize the laity; offer outreach to the divorced, domestic abuse victims and to parents of newly baptized and first Communicants; and to keep praying.

Mulford said she was satisfied with the responses, especially because participants had just two weeks to respond and the response period fell between early and mid-December. "It was a fast turnaround but I believe we have heard from our people," she said.

"I am pleased that responses came from all corners of the diocese: Paris, Robinson, Collinsville, Dieterich, Carlinville, Hardin and Liberty," she said. The four areas with the greatest response were Decatur with 30; Springfield with 28; Edwardsville with 25 and Quincy with 20.

"The remainder of the responses were widespread," Mulford said. "But I believe that the Holy Spirit was really working."