Call it the Catholic Church’s dirty little secret.
Well, their other dirty little secret.
Actually, at this point it’s kind of an open secret. Most people with even a passing interest in matters of religion and sexuality are aware that a huge percentage of European and North American Catholics ignore the Vatican’s teachings in areas where these matters intersect. Controversy over birth control notwithstanding, most Catholic families show evidence of family planning use, and the majority of Catholic women have used contraceptives at some point in life. A growing contingent of Catholics describe themselves as pro-choice in matters of abortion and assisted dying. And Catholics — youth in particular — express growing support for marriage equality and gay families.
Dissent from Catholic teaching is such a concern, the traditionally-minded American organization Catholic Answers has released and re-released a Voters’ Guide for Serious Catholics to ensure lock-step voting on questions of “Catholic moral teaching and fundamental human rights.” It hasn’t worked; the majority of Catholics continue to form their own opinions, with religion only one of many factors that influence their choices.
But now the Vatican admits it.
In preparation for an upcoming Vatican synod on issues of marriage and sexuality, scheduled for October, Vatican officials actually sent out a 39-point questionnaire for ordinary Catholics around the world. They recently released the findings, and, to their credit, they’ve been honest about what they found.
So what did they find? Well, for starters, many Catholics find the teaching on contraception to be an unjust intrusion into couples’ marriages, their conscience rights, and their concept of responsible parenthood. They find annulment a cumbersome and compassionless response to marital breakdown. And they think the Church discriminates against gay people. Above all, they don’t want to take advice on sexual matters from often-elderly celibate men who have typically had no adult involvement in family life, sexual relationships, and child-rearing.
“Some observations,” the document says, “inferred that the clergy sometimes feel so unsuited and ill-prepared to treat issues regarding sexuality, fertility, and procreation that they often choose to remain silent.” Permitting priests to marry was not suggested as a potential solution.
Nobody expects these findings to result in actual changes to Catholic teaching. Rather, the document emphasizes that what these Catholics really need is for priests and the media to do a better job communicating the positive aspects of Church teaching on these issues.
It’s important for us to keep in mind that Catholics from outside of Europe and the Americas have typically responded to such surveys in favor of traditional Church teaching to an overwhelming degree. The Church’s situation in North America is very different from that seen in parts of Africa or Asia.
Still, it’s nice to see the Vatican being forthright about the problems many people see with Catholic teaching, instead of pretending all’s well.
Incidentally, the same survey found that many Catholics’ perception of their Church was damaged by its handling of clergy sexual abuse cases.
Try to contain your shock.
(Image via Allvoices)