In an unusual move to become less “Vatican-centric,” according to Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is seeking the opinions of parishes around the world to understand how they handle sensitive topics like birth control, abortion, gay marriage, and divorce in their local churches, the Associated Press reports.
Vatican coordinator Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri announced in mid-October his hope that the poll would incite fervent discussion among the global Catholic community, encouraging factions of bishops around the world to "share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received." The poll asks how specific churches minister to gay parishioners, along with how “how is God's mercy proclaimed" to separated, divorced, or remarried couples, among other topics.
"It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome," Helen Osman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, told the Associated Press.
In certain parts of the world, bishops have posted the survey online to be accessed by a range of Catholics, such as priests, parents, nuns, and lay people.
This is not the first time the Vatican has made headlines under Pope Francis. Last month, the pope gave an interview where he suggested women deserve more input in dealings with the Church. “Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the Church,” Francis said. The pope has gained much popularity from his refreshingly progressive takes on the Church’s traditionally held views.
“The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions,” he added.
Despite the pope’s forward-thinking missions, the Catholic church firmly maintains conservative stances on a number of social issues. According to the AP, the survey’s introduction includes a list of issues that were previously taboo in conversations among clergy — issues that “were unheard of until a few years ago.” These include, among others, single parent families, gay marriage, interfaith marriage, and "forms of feminism hostile to the church."
Admittedly, the language is mostly unchanged. Escaping the “Vatican-centric” ideals of decades past may simply result in affirming the beliefs that are still held today, as the pope has routinely confirmed his opposition to gay marriage and abortion.
The poll’s findings will be the focus of conversation at an October 2014 synod, or meeting, where the presidents of the national bishops conferences will discuss the various opinions populating their regions. Plans have already been hashed out, Archbishop Baldisseri says, for a follow-up convention in 2015 on the same topic.