In November 2013 fifteen U.S. Catholic organizations responded to the Vatican’s call for bishops globally to survey Catholics on family issues. While bishops’ conferences throughout Europe and Asia made their surveys public, the U.S. bishops put forth no unified effort to survey the laity.
The online questionnaire was completed by more that 16,000 Catholics in English and Spanish, and inspired a similar survey used in Ireland.
Analyzed independently by Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland, the survey results highlight 7 core issues of concern:
- Pastoral care urgently needed
- Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
- Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
- Same-sex marriage
- Women in the Church
- Sexual abuse scandals
- Skepticism and hope
Fifty-three percent of survey respondents self-identified as weekly Mass-goers. This is a higher Mass attendance than the overall U.S. Catholic average of thirty-one percent in 2011 (D’Antonio et al., 2013). Deborah Rose-Milavec, Executive Director of FutureChurch, one of the organizing groups remarked, “this finding indicates that respondents are deeply engaged Catholics who care about their Church.”
In December a short summary of the quantitative data and a document containing each and every written comment and response was sent to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod on the Bishops and the Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, President of the USCCB.
The full analysis of this survey was delivered to the U.S. cardinals attending this week’s consistory in preparation for the Synod on the Family in October 2014, and to Cardinal Baldisseri. The report is available in full, online: www.mycatholicfamily.org
Linda Pinto, Coordinator of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a leadership forum of US organizations inspired by Vatican II, noted: "Canon Law (212.3) gives church citizens the ‘right, indeed at times, the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest their views on matters which concern the good of the Church.’ The tremendous response to this survey shows just how much wisdom Catholics are ready to share with Church leaders."
Kate Conmy, Assistant Director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, remarked: “It is crushing to read that the majority (55 %) of respondents judge that the Church has been unsuccessful in proposing a manner of praying within the family that can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, an organization of LGBT Catholics and supporters, said, “One of the saddest things the survey revealed is how many people feel pain due to Church teaching about relationships and families. Nearly three-quarters (74.5%) of respondents said couples are aware when their relationships are not accepted by the Church, and almost 70% (69.5%) said these couples feel marginalized. Over a third (35.2%) characterized their dioceses as ‘hostile and condemning’ towards same-sex couples. These numbers are tragic and heart-breaking. It indicates a deep pastoral crisis in our Church, and is a good indication of why we see so many people leaving the Church.”
"Once again, Catholics made clear their needs and hopes for a just and inclusive Church,” said Jim Fitzgerald, Executive Director of Call To Action. “These significant survey findings must lead to substantial changes for the good of the church we love."
Dr. Fagan concludes his 16-page analysis with summarizing the “one near-universal hope” for the respondents to this survey, by quoting Pope Francis: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, #114).
Organizational sponsors of the survey project include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, Catholic Church Reform, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, Fortunate Families, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women's Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, Women's Alliance for Theology Ethics and Ritual (WATER) and Women's Ordination Conference.