Most Catholics want the Church to allow divorcees and those who re-marry to take Communion, according to a church wide survey conducted by the Bishops of England and Wales.
Among the responses, one diocese suggests allowing Catholics to live together to decide if they want to commit to marriage – and having a liturgical ceremony to endorse it.
These were just some of the thorny issues raised in the 28-page summary of responses from the Marriage and Family Life Project Office survey The Call, The Mission, the journey.
People were asked six questions on marriage and family life, as well as the Church’s social teaching on a variety of issues after Pope Francis requested people to share their views on themes emerging from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
In the document respondents call on the Church to have a more “sympathetic, pastoral and merciful response that recognises both “pain of endings, and the joy of a fresh start in the gift of a second marriage.”
A common view expressed was denial of the sacraments has a “corrosive impact” with many saying they don’t understand the Church’s stance on the issue.
Asked about their worst fears, people raised concerns over the difficulties in obtaining an annulment, how much later couples are marrying and what children are being taught in school about relationships and gay marriage.
Though others said they struggled with the Church and its teaching on these issues accusing the Church of “being out of touch, unbending or unrealistic” on sexual ethics, a lack of support for same-sex partnerships, or contraception.
Altogether 1,051 responses were submitted online, of which 107 were group responses – 84 per cent were lay people, six per cent were separated or divorced.
Sixteen diocese took part, with religious organisations also contributing.
The report was carried out to let Catholics have their say on the Church, marriage and family life.
The final document includes people’s suggestions for “improving” the church’s stance on marriage with respondents saying they had a “lack of confidence” in the clergy calling their marriage preparation “inadequate”.
Many say they would feel priests were better placed to give marriage advice if they were allowed to marry, claiming some men are called to priesthood but not celibacy.
Among the ideas put forward by some members of one diocese, is the suggestion of a “period of betrothal”, first considered and then committed to by couples as a “serious undertaking,” perhaps endorsed by a liturgical ceremony.
The response goes on to say the period could see the “couple live together, and explore the vocation to marriage”.
It adds this would be a “helpful” development creating a “solid foundation, which could prevent marital breakdown later on”.
Another group called for a distinction between married life and family, saying the current attitude did not give them equal value.
Many also called for married life to be seen more as a vocation on par with priesthood.
One respondent went so far as saying they were “sickened” by the stress put on vocations to the priesthood, with many suggesting promoting marriage as a vocation would see a “natural” flow of more priests.
Three diocesan responses specifically express the concern that many people struggle to understand the language of vocation, covenant and sacrament as foundational for marriage in the Church.
The survey also asked what obstacles prevented families from taking part in Church activities.
People listed work patterns, pace of life, other commitments, diversion of social media, TV and the internet as reasons they didn’t take part.
While others said they were “ashamed” of their faith calling it “misogynistic, controlling, self-opinionated.”
Another said: “Thank God for the secular world which has blown in to the murky corridors of the Vatican.”
Though not all responses were negative. Others said without their faith they “couldn’t get out of bed each morning” and a theme running through the answers was a sense of gratitude to Pope Francis for bringing to the fore marriage and family life as well as inviting people to have their say.
The document even delved into criticism of the survey itself, with a few dioceses saying parishes found the questions difficult or rejected the way questions were expressed.
There was also criticism of the “technical” and “flowery” language used, with people calling for a simpler tone to be taken.
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