As I was down for the count yesterday, I did not do any writing but I did browse for material for our Saturday “Books and Apps” discussion. I found one staring me in the face, my own diocese’s website for the questionnaire on the Synod of the Family. From various news reports I see that this survey is not available everywhere, so I enclosed a link, and on the chance you wish to get involved here, you could hypothetically log in with my parish, Church of the Annunciation. At the very least, it would make my pastor scratch his head.
I actually have looked at this questionnaire several times. In the best of all worlds a participant would have read the Lineamenta or summary of the 2014 Synod of Bishops. I have a separate link for this because my diocesan link is not working. (Moreover, my computer crashed twice this AM as I tried to enter the Diocesan home site.) The Lineamenta is written in a language that may be foreign to those unfamiliar with “the Roman way,” as they say. If you find it hard to follow, you are not alone. Roman documents never get to the point easily. There are numerous references to previous popes, or “our predecessors of happy memory.” A number of previous documents are standard fare for inclusion by name, partly to lay historical groundwork for what is to come, but also as a subtle reminder that those difficult encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae better get their day in court. Documents typically go on to address the unique circumstances of our day and the need for Holy Mother Church, ever wise but ever young, to bring its wisdom to (insert issue.) By George, I think I could write one of these.
What made the last Synod, the mother of the Lineamenta, so noteworthy, was the range of topics included under the umbrella of the family. For the first time in memory there was the mention of such matters as single parenting, divorced and remarried Catholics, and homosexuality. If you plan on tackling the questionnaire, remember that the health of the nuclear family—mom, dad, kids—is the target here. The Church seems to be asking how it may become more pastorally helpful in the nurturing of families, or to use Pope Paul VI’s memorable phrase, “the domestic Church.”
My main problem is the very format of this questionnaire. My diocese is using “Survey Monkey,” which advises participants to allow from one to two hours for completion. That’s a lot of time. The survey requests participants to get into the Roman way of looking at things. The very definition of “family” is, at the least, culturally confused. I won’t insult your intelligence by enumerating contemporary problems facing the family, but to answer the questionnaire one must in a sense advise the Church on what these problems are and, more to the point, how to solve them.
I have been thinking for a while here about a nice way to say this, but I think the blunt truth is that what we have is an unworkable survey instrument. It troubles me to say that; I have felt some guilt in not having concluded mine because this is the first time in my lifetime that such an opportunity has been offered to all the faithful (if you live in the right dioceses, that is) and I think I do have a few thoughts that might be helpful.
Some history here might be helpful. For many centuries, including all of the Medieval ones, the university was the “academic engine” of the Church. Issues of faith and morals were discussed and argued in an academic setting. If the pamphlet wars, expulsions, and other rough house of medieval university life are any indication, such matters were discussed with considerable passion. But popes and kings turned to the great faculties and the academic giants for theological input on the issues of the day. With the increased power of the papacy after the Council of Trent (1547-1563), the influence of the university declined as the Roman curial household took greater overview of faith and morals.
The advantages of the Medieval university system were many. Among them was what we would call today “peer review.” A more basic advantage was the very competence of the participants, who for starters spoke the languages of scholasticism, logic and Latin in which all research and teaching was done. It seems to me that the Synodal questionnaire might have better gone to the theological academics of the major Catholic universities around the world, who certainly know the language and the landscape of theological research in the present day.
To put this questionnaire out to the Catholic public in its present form risks either disinterest or discouragement. Without a doubt anyone reading these words has something of value to contribute; some may be in considerable emotional and moral disarray and would jump at the opportunity to put this on paper for consideration by a special meeting of pope and bishops ostensibly called for this purpose. A shorter, more user-friendly, instrument should have been composed for this purpose. If the goal of the Church is indeed to help families, communicating in the common language would be a great place to start.